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Transfer students grapple with finding place on campus

Transfer students face challenges adjusting to campus life, finding housing at University

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brendan Sweeney ‘20 trasferred to Brown in the fall. Transfer students face a plethora of challenges upon entering the University, including the lack of a specific housing program and established community.

This article is part of the series Transferring to Brown, a two-part series about transfer students at Brown. The series examines the narratives of various transfer students at the University in two stages: the process of transferring to Brown and acclimation to campus.

Transfer students’ first days at Brown are a whirlwind of meeting new people, adjusting to campus and finding a community.

“I feel like I have a solid base (of friends) and the rest will sort of work its way out,” said Brendan Sweeney ’20, who transferred to Brown this semester. “I wouldn’t want to expect to have found the closest group of friends ever just yet. But I think there’s a lot of potential there.”

For the 116 transfer students matriculating to Brown this year, Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Maitrayee Bhattacharyya and Transfer Dean of the College Julie Lee act as “a constant point of support to students up through degree completion,” Bhattacharyya said. As they transition to Brown, transfers must navigate not only academic differences, but other challenges that may come more easily to returning students.

“Students who do transfer are really embracing the opportunity here at Brown because they are making a conscious choice having come from another institution,” Lee said. Transfer students “bring that sense of initiative, self-directedness (and) willingness to try something to our community.”

Orientation

When transfer students arrive on campus, the University greets them with resources and programs to help them acclimate to the community.

The orientation — meant for transfer, visiting and resumed undergraduate education students — includes events and activities similar to first-years’ orientation.

“A large emphasis of orientation is raising awareness of resources and communities at Brown,” Bhattacharyya said. The transfer events also make sure to touch on topics pertinent to transfer students, such as academics and degree completion, she added.

In addition to orientation, students meet with transfer counselors — previous transfer students who walk new transfers through orientation and offer their advice, said Zoe Zacharopoulos ’19, a transfer counselor. These counselors are transfers’ “strongest base of support,” said James Ford ’19.

Even with these initial systems of support, the transfer orientation can be overwhelming for students — Zacharopoulos described it as a flurry of information “thrown at you in the first four days,” said. But the stress of orientation bonds transfers together, Ford said.

Housing

Besides orientation, transfer students may make initial connections through housing. Though the University lacks a specific housing program for transfer students, transfers often end up with other transfer students. Students are housed with returning students in their class based on availability, Bhattacharyya said.

Ford lived with one transfer and three returning students during his first year at Brown — an ideal living  situation that allowed him to connect with another transfer student and expand his social circle through returning students, he said.

Though some transfer students end up satisfied with their housing upon coming to Brown, others, especially spring transfers, face stress trying to find a place to live on campus.

Rachel Risoleo ’19, a spring transfer, missed the application deadline for off-campus housing for the next academic year, so she had to enter the housing lottery. After failing to find a dorm and getting put in the summer assignment process, she eventually got permission to live off-campus after a long back-and-forth with ResLife. As she had been on campus for only a month before entering the housing process in the spring, Risoleo said ResLife could be more sympathetic to transfer students.

Julia Christensen ’18, another spring transfer, agreed that transfer students are “put at a huge disadvantage” when it comes to housing. “We just got there in the spring, so everyone had to make arrangements quickly,” she said.

To ameliorate the stress the housing process can cause, Lee and Bhattacharyya organize a housing information session for transfer students and encourages them to speak with their transfer counselors about housing opinions, Battacharyya wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald.

Transitions

Whether one chooses to transfer in the fall or spring can not only affect transfer students’ housing experience, but also their ability to find community.

When applying to transfer to Brown as a sophomore, students indicate whether they are willing to enroll in the spring of the fall, and the University decides which semester they will begin. Within the Ivy League, Brown and Cornell are the only institutions that enroll transfers in the spring.

Those who enroll in the spring can opt to remain at their original institution or study abroad at one of three Brown-sponsored programs in the fall.

Risoleo transferred the spring of her sophomore year, but chose to study abroad in Granada before coming to Brown. Doing so gave her a small community of Brown students who had studied with her when she came to campus.

Christensen also chose to study abroad in the fall and echoed Risoleo. Having these connections “was really great for the first few months when everyone is trying to make connections and integrate in the middle of the school year,” Christensen said.

Comparatively, Zacharopoulos chose to stay at her original institution during the fall of her sophomore year. When she came to Brown in the spring, Zacharopoulos found it difficult to connect with some of her fellow transfers that studied abroad together in the fall.

The spring “is not the place (nor) the time to meet new people,” Zacharopoulos added. In addition to cold and unwelcoming weather, she said “people already have their friend groups established.”

Junior transfers face similar difficulties, Ford said. With only two years left of college, Ford found a stronger sense of urgency to become a part of the Brown community both socially and academically. The open curriculum can be “less accessible for (junior) transfers,” since students have less time to explore classes and fulfill concentration requirements, Ford said.

Integration

Despite the initial difficulties of making a home out of Brown, transfer status is “not something that defines you at Brown,” Zacharopoulos said. “I still feel like Brown is my college.”

Many transfers felt that the transfer community helped provide the right amount of support without completely dominating their experiences.

Lee and Bhattacharyya have scheduled events for transfers to reconnect throughout the year, but have also emphasized that students widen their social circles beyond fellow transfers.

“The transfer community is good in that you can connect with people because you’re transfers, but it’s not necessarily isolating,” Risoleo said.

Some transfers have made the effort to deliberately reach out beyond the transfer community to make sure they don’t end up only surrounding themselves with other transfer students.

“Depending on your style, I think some people really hit off being pretty good friends during the transfer orientation, and they’ll kind of stick together,” Will Friend ’20 said, adding that he has made an effort to connect with returning students to make diverse connections.