The Healey Family Student Center buzzed with nervous chatter. Dinner was being placed on a table in the back and music played on speakers as prospective Georgetown students sat around tables talking about the weekend that lie ahead of them.
“For me personally, I’m excited to visit the classes,” said Jennifer Martinez, a prospective student from Arizona. “I want to see the interactions the students have with the professors.”
Sergio Gonzalez Porras, a prospective College student also from Arizona, looked forward to learning about the resources offered by Georgetown. “Considering I’m undocumented and our current political climate, it’s important to see what resources the university would offer,” he said.
Martinez and Porras were two of 77 admitted students of color visiting Georgetown last weekend for the regular decision 2018 Hoya Saxa Weekend. Hosted through the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access (CMEA) and in partnership with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Hoya Saxa Weekend is a chance for admitted students of color to experience life at Georgetown. Twice each spring, once for early admission and once for regular decision, admitted students of color stay with a student host for a weekend and experience campus life with an emphasis on the multicultural experience. The university pays for their travel and accommodation expenses.
In 2000, the university decided to cancel Minority Hosting Weekend, a similar program that had been running in the 90s. That year, there was a significant decrease in African-American enrollment, and so in 2001, Hoya Saxa Weekend was born in its place.
In recent years, students who attended the weekend have managed to maintain yield rates— the percentage of admitted students who enroll each year— higher than those of the university as a whole. In 2016, Hoya Saxa Weekend saw a 68 percent yield rate, compared to the university-wide 48 percent. Many former attendees say they chose Georgetown because of their experience during Hoya Saxa Weekend.
“Hoya Saxa Weekend was one of the things that confirmed that I would belong at Georgetown,” said Julia Potts (MSB ’20), a 2016 Hoya Saxa Weekend attendee and current hosting co-coordinator for the Hoya Saxa Weekend committee. Potts points to ABISSA, the African Society of Georgetown’s annual cultural showcase, as a pivotal moment during her weekend.
“I really fell in love with ABISSA and seeing how the black community gathers around Georgetown,” Potts said. “And for me to know that there is a community for black people that do things together and is not separate and that it can be a united front was really important for me.”
Creating this sense of belonging that past attendees have felt is something that Christian Sese, the Hoya Saxa Weekend Advisor, aims for during each weekend.
“When I learned that Hoya Saxa Weekend was going to be my biggest project, I actually recalled that I went to Xavier’s equivalent of Hoya Saxa Weekend and that was actually the reason I went there,” Sese said. “And so for me, as somebody who understands the importance and value of feeling like you belong or connect with a place, it was perfect that this was one of my responsibilities.”
One thing that sets Hoya Saxa Weekend apart from the Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program (GAAP), the university’s general admitted students weekend, is that Hoya Saxa Weekend attendees stay in dormitories with student hosts, which provides insight into the college experience that more structured events in the schedule aren’t able to.
Teak Emmanuel Hodge (SFS ’21), one of the hosting co-coordinators for the Hoya Saxa Weekend planning committee, described his role in pairing prospective students with their student hosts. “Given merely two spreadsheets of names and short responses, my co-coordinator and I were asked to try and connect these two groups in a way where new students could use current students as a resource for their development,” he wrote in an email to the Voice.
For Carolyn Cabrera (MSB ’20), who hosted an attendee this year, the match was perfect. “My hostee was also from New York and also in the business school,” she said. “A lot of doubts I had before coming to Georgetown, she kind of had the same questions. Like, for example, she was between NYU and Georgetown and before I came here, I was also between both schools.”
When the relationships between hosts and prospective students are successful, it is an incredibly rewarding and enlightening experience for the prospective students, according to the facilitators.
“The day the students arrived and split off their hosts, I remember having some hostees come up to me and tell me that they really appreciated who their hosts were and how much they were able to share about their experiences,” Hodge said. “Even now that my roommate is hosting, I remember walking into our room and hearing how active and engaged the conversation between him and his hostee was.”
Hoya Saxa Weekend always runs concurrently with GAAP Weekend, but in recent years, there has been more of a push to integrate Hoya Saxa Weekend and GAAP. The schedules for Hoya Saxa Weekend provide time for students to attend GAAP programming and events, and the attendees are strongly encouraged to attend them.
“I think it’s important for incoming or prospective students of color to recognize that this is still a predominately white institution,” Sese said. “So they need to integrate or interact with more of the white students ‘cause the reality is that when they come here, that’s what this experience is going to be like. And I think attending GAAP events allows them to have that.”
There has also been a push to unify the Hoya Saxa Weekend student planning committee and the GAAP student board through morning mixers for the committees to get to know each other. Cindy Tran (COL ‘20), co-chair of the Hoya Saxa Weekend committee, wrote in an email to the Voice that she was grateful for the warm reception that the initiative received from GAAP.
“I’ve been working closely with Maria Giaquinto [co-vice president of the GAAP student board] and between hosting mixers and exchanging collaborative emails, we’ve both been integral to the relationship between Hoya Saxa Weekend and GAAP this year,” she wrote. “We still have room for improvement, of course, but I’m hoping to see the partnership continue to grow with future co-chairs and presidents.”
Despite these improvements, Hoya Saxa Weekend continues to struggle under its current budget and cannot fund every prospective student of color who wants to participate. Each year there are students who do not get the chance to experience the weekend for themselves.
The Office of Undergraduate Admissions first invites all admitted students of color to RSVP for Hoya Saxa Weekend. Once the students RSVP, the CMEA then chooses who can come based on factors including their expected family contribution, if they are the first in their family to attend college, and if they have not yet visited Georgetown.
“The demand is growing, but the resources are not,” he continued. When he first became program advisor in 2014, Hoya Saxa Weekend had a total 50 to 60 attendees between the two weekends. That number has steadily increased to over 100 attendees without a change in budget for nearly four years.
“To be transparent, the money and funding just isn’t there,” Tran wrote. “CMEA staff are underpaid, and as co-chairs, Omaris and I are not paid, despite the 15-20 hours a week we put into planning Hoya Saxa Weekend. A better distribution of the resources here at the university has to be made to continue the growth and success of Hoya Saxa Weekend.”
Without an increase in budget, the CMEA has relied on partnerships with other departments to expand the program. Recently, they cooperated with the Regents Scholars program, a program that aims to expand opportunities for students from underrepresented communities pursuing studies in the sciences. Headed by Dr. Heidi Elmendorf, this partnership serves to cover the travel costs of admitted students in the Community Scholars Program majoring in the sciences.
Some prospective students have also begun volunteering to fund their own travel costs. “Last year, I think, was the first time we got students who RSVP’d but were declined who offered to pay their own way to Georgetown just to be a part of the experience,” Sese said.
For the students who are unable to attend Hoya Saxa Weekend, the CMEA encourages them to attend GAAP weekend, and if not GAAP weekend, Pangea, a welcome dinner for first year and transfer students that highlights the multicultural experience at Georgetown.
Despite the budgetary restraints, this year’s Hoya Saxa Weekend was successful, according to students who attended. Kelvin Santacruz attended this year’s regular decision Hoya Saxa Weekend and has committed to Georgetown. He cited the relationships he formed with staff members, Arelis Palacios, the CMEA’s associate director for undocumented student services, and Jaime Briseno, senior associate director of multicultural recruitment, as significant factors in his choice to come to Georgetown.
“I was introduced to Arelis Palacios and Jaime Briseno who reassured me that in choosing to come to Georgetown I would be supported and guided by some of the best instructors in the country,” he wrote in an email to the Voice.
Lizette Mariano, another incoming freshman who attended this year’s early action Hoya Saxa Weekend, discussed the relationship she built with her host. “We spent nights talking about Georgetown as a whole. She always answered my questions truthfully, the bad and the good of Georgetown,” she wrote in an email to the Voice.
The relationships that attendees develop during Hoya Saxa Weekend are, according to Hodge, among the most lasting that attendees will have should they attend Georgetown in the fall.
“I think what makes Hoya Saxa Weekend relationships so durable is that they are formed from uncertainty,” he said. “We all come in unsure about college, about life, and about who we want to become, but it is that uncertainty that becomes our greatest bond. Feeling like we are not alone in this choice and in this world gives us the strength to make that tough college decision and to ultimately chose Georgetown as our home.”
Image Credits: Photo: Onrei Josh Ladao