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‘The stars aligning’: Students reflect on Tougaloo-Brown exchange semester, share advice for applicants

Program recently restructured to include ‘streamlined’ application process, increased student orientations

<p><span style="background-color: transparent;">For She’Kyra Paige ’24, the program is most unique in its ability to allow students to “feel uncomfortable, yet also have the best experience of their lives.” </span></p><p><span style="background-color: transparent;">Courtesy of </span>2C2K Photography</p>

For She’Kyra Paige ’24, the program is most unique in its ability to allow students to “feel uncomfortable, yet also have the best experience of their lives.”

Courtesy of 2C2K Photography

The Brown-Tougaloo Partnership has offered experiential learning opportunities both on College Hill and at Tougaloo College’s campus in Jackson, Mississippi, since the program’s official establishment in 1964, according to the partnership’s website. One of the partnership’s largest opportunities — the Brown-Tougaloo exchange semester — allows interested students from both schools to spend a semester away at the other institution.

Applications for the Brown-Tougaloo exchange semester are now open until Oct. 1, according to Brown’s Assistant Director of Experiential Learning Programs Kelly Watts. The program is seeking out students who hope to “expand intellectual and cultural curiosity, enhance academic and personal growth, develop new skills and self-awareness and cultivate community and long-lasting relationships,” Watts wrote in an email to The Herald.

The exchange program has recently been restructured based on feedback from previous program participants, including a new “streamlined” application process that involves individual meetings with program applicants, according to Watts.

Exchange students can now also participate in a “pre-departure” and “follow-up orientation” prior to the start of classes, as well as receive more detailed guidance about the academic and extracurricular resources available to them during their semester away. 

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The Herald spoke to three Tougaloo students who completed their exchange semester at Brown to learn more about the available opportunities, resources and experiences associated with the program.

Vivienne Diaz said that she chose to attend Tougaloo to combat the feelings of isolation she experienced after receiving a “whitewashed” education in her hometown.

Diaz, who came to Brown in fall 2022, described her acceptance to the partnership program as “the stars aligning,” since the COVID-19 pandemic halted her original plans to study abroad as an undergraduate. 

“I was the first student since the start of COVID” to participate in the exchange program, Diaz said. “So I was all by my lonesome. I feel like my experience is pretty unique because I had to be a social butterfly and was just everywhere.”

During her time at Brown, Diaz found a home in several student organizations, including Hillel, Queer People and Allies for the Advancement of Medicine, Rural Students at Brown and Cuba at Brown. 

Diaz credited much of her ability to successfully navigate the different institutional channels at Brown to her Tougaloo advisor, Melissa McCoy, and Nirva LaFortune MA ’19, former assistant director of the Curricular Resource Center for Peer Advising at Brown.

“I really felt like I put down some valuable roots and made great connections,” she said.

Matthew McKee came to Brown from Tougaloo this summer as a research assistant for Professor of Physics and Engineering Jay Tang in search of an opportunity to “research something new, somewhere new,” he said.

McKee expressed feeling supported by both Brown and Tougaloo during his exchange summer, noting that he received a housing stipend from Tougaloo, as well as a $6,000 stipend from the University. He also received extensive counseling from his Tougaloo mentor, Wendy White of the Jackson Heart Study Undergraduate Training and Education Center.

McKee noted that his summer experience allowed him to learn just as much about personal values as bacteria: “I learned both in the lab and outside of the lab.”

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According to She’Kyra Paige, who did her exchange semester at Brown last spring, the most significant benefit of the program is that it “forces you to grow beyond what you’re used to.” She explained that before coming to Brown, she had never spent much time away from Mississippi.

Paige’s experience was not without its challenges. “I believe as far as staff supporting me, my cohort and I were mostly by ourselves,” she explained. “A lot of Brown students and teachers were not aware of who we were, and our Tougaloo staff really didn’t reach out as much.”

“I navigated the University with friends I made at the Brown campus,” Paige added.

According to Tougaloo College’s BTP Program Director Daphne Chamberlain, the BTP program staff at Tougaloo checks in with students “from time to time during (their) time on exchange.”   

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“There have been long-standing concerns voiced by Tougaloo College students about the acknowledgment of their presence on Brown's campus,” Chamberlain wrote in a message to The Herald. “This is an opportunity to bring more awareness to the matter between both institutions so … our students can feel more welcome in that community while they are there.”

Sylvia Carey-Butler, vice president for the University’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, wrote in a message to The Herald that “students participating in the Semester Exchange Program have access to all of the campus resources available to Brown students,” including Campus Life programs and student organizations.

Watts shared that “staff in the College welcome student feedback and are always seeking to improve the student experience in programs that we help to administer and manage.”

Paige, McKee and Diaz each noted that their best piece of advice to students hoping to participate in the Brown-Tougaloo exchange semester would be to connect with other exchange students on campus and seek out former program participants.

“Do the exchange semester,” Paige said. “Just communicate with others who have been in your shoes before.”

Despite a lull in exchange following the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Watts wrote that “we anticipate there will be 1-2 Brown students enrolled at Tougaloo College and 2-3 Tougaloo students enrolled at Brown” in spring 2024.


Sofia Barnett

Sofia Barnett is a University News editor overseeing the faculty and higher education beat. She is a junior from Texas studying history and English nonfiction and enjoys freelancing in her free time.



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