‘Let’s Talk’ series provides outlet for underrepresented students

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Have you ever felt alone as an underrepresented student on campus, even in a crowded classroom full of your peers? If so, Gannon University’s new “Let’s Talk” series may be for you.
Feliesha Shelton-Wheeler, Psy.D., a staff therapist at Gannon’s Health and Counseling Services, created the series to provide a safe space for underrepresented students at Gannon to discuss unique experiences and challenges they face on campus.
The goal of the series is not to solve these issues, but to create a space in which students can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts on them. Most importantly, it presents an opportunity to meet fellow students that may feel the same and share similar struggles.
Shelton-Wheeler came up with the idea to bring a series like this to Gannon after reflecting on her own experiences as an underrepresented student on her college campus.
“While I made friends from various cultures and ethnicities, I longed to feel a sense of validation for the unique qualities that I brought to campus,” Shelton-Wheeler said. “I wanted to be part of a campus that valued and showed interest in learning about and nurturing my cultural growth and connection to my heritage.”
Because of this feeling of isolation and the lack of any outlet provided by the university to help students like Shelton-Wheeler, she ended up transferring to Hampton University, a school recognized as a Historically Black College or University in the United States.
“It was actually the best decision I could have made for myself at that time,” Shelton-Wheeler said.
“However, I can’t help but think that if the initial undergraduate university I attended had a ‘Let’s Talk’ series or group, perhaps they could have retained me and other students of color.”
This is why Shelton-Wheeler felt that it was imperative for Gannon to offer a program that could reach out to these students and hopefully ease this feeling of alienation and make them feel more comfortable and part of a community.
“It’s my hope that the ‘Let’s Talk’ series will be just one of many resources that helps to retain students who have the potential to leave Gannon prematurely if they do not feel a sense connection and validation,” Shelton-Wheeler said.
The first meeting was appropriately held in the Stubler Room at the Waldron Campus Center, which reinforced the idea that the meeting was an opportunity to feel comfortable sharing these personal struggles with peers.
Shelton-Wheeler said that the discussions were overwhelmingly successful in terms of content and sincerity, and the students who attended did not hesitate to contribute.
“I was touched by their willingness to be vulnerable,” Shelton-Wheeler said. “Students were willing to share their experiences of what it’s like to be one of, if not the only, student of color in their classroom, their interactions with peers, staff and faculty on campus.”
Lydia Bundy, a junior science major and a member of both the Black Student Union and Diversity and Leadership Initiative, attended the first “Let’s Talk” meeting. She decided that it was important that she attended to support the outreach Gannon was providing.
“I enjoy talking about my experiences and just getting to know my fellow mates more,” Bundy said. “There are those of us who really don’t have anyone to talk to, and for that reason I think this series is very necessary and will surely have a positive impact.”
The next two meetings are scheduled for Oct. 25 and Nov. 15. Anyone interested in attending should contact Shelton-Wheeler via email at [email protected] or by phone at 814-971-7011.
“Our campus continues to grow and students continue to show a strong interest in being a part of the Gannon community,” Shelton-Wheeler said.
“Because of this growth, I think it will be even more important for Gannon to continue to create more spaces and opportunities for the voices and experiences of students who are underrepresented to be heard and validated.”

KYLE JOSEPH
[email protected]