By: Max Liebel
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – I found myself sitting around a group of people in a social setting here on campus my sophomore year talking about where we came from, our old high schools, and the towns we grew up in. I had mentioned that I was a NUOP student and the girl sitting next to me had said “I thought that was for inner city kids.” After that statement we then proceeded to get in a somewhat-heated argument. It was clear to me, at this point, that who knew about the program may not have all the facts. This was not my last discussion on the program and the stigmas that surrounded it to those who knew of the program.
To be clear NUOP students are hardly handed anything. Every NUOP student is required to take a three credit summer course for four weeks before their first semester at Niagara University. This involves waking up at 8 a.m., going to class, followed by a writing class, study sessions, and meetings. I usually get back to the dorms around 8 p.m. five nights a week. We do not get handed anything, it is earned. Myself and other NUOP students will attest to being all the more prepared for college because of it. We learn how to write a proper email, what a real class and course texts look like and what college will require of you all before registering for your first classes here on campus. As well as logging six study hours a week in the Library, or Academic Support offices and maintaining a certain GPA and standing with the University once you are here on campus as a full-time student.
My context and experience doesn’t speak for NUOP students as a whole. Myself, Kenyia King and Elizabeth Camara all discussed our experiences with the NUOP program and what it had provided us and prepared us for. We had all agreed that the two main figures of the program, Jerrell Mason and Kara Oliver, had provided fantastic support systems as well as advisors.
“They don’t sugar coat anything and they don’t play around, they really make sure you’re on the right track” said Camara, who is currently interning with senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “I don’t think my other advisors would have offered me the same kind of opportunities Kara [Oliver] has with things like my internship.” Speaking from experience, Oliver and Mason are the reason i’m still here at NU. They have pushed me and kept me on a path to success, unlike any other figures I’ve had in my academic career. I wouldn’t be here writing this article if it wasn’t for their guidance.
There is a certain racial profiling that surrounds NUOP students. This shows in the discussion I alluded to earlier with coded language like “inner city kids” or that on multiple occasions students and faculty has mistaken me for a work study student when I am in the NUOP office.
“Everyone assumes that if you get into NUOP that means you didn’t get in regularly,” said King. “They assume that you are simply poor, black or didn’t get accepted through regular admissions. which isn’t the case.”
Our expectations are not the same as a regular student’s on campus. Our advisors and the program holds us to a higher standard than that of a “normal” student. We have more to prove than “normal” students, and each semester we meet that standard and rise to the occasion. I would not trade my NUOP experience or the opportunities it’s given me for anything. I can say confidently that NUOP is the reason I had the opportunity to go to college, and that is something no amount of student loans can measure.