PART 2: FALL SEMESTER
More than halfway through the fall semester, a wintry gloom had begun to descend over Ann Arbor as trees shed their leaves and gray clouds hung low over campus. But Tihnae Bennett was alight with school spirit as she laughingly recalled her daring trip to East Lansing to see U-M trounce Michigan State on the football field.
“I had these high Michigan socks and a Michigan football hoodie,” she said. “I had ‘M’ stickers on my face and everything.” Sitting with one of her best friends from high school—now a Michigan State freshman—Tihnae stood out in MSU’s student section. “Every time Michigan would run the ball really far or score, I would be the only one in that section making noise. People said, ‘Why don’t you just wear black or something so you won’t be looked at?’ But I didn’t care.”
It’s not as if head-to-toe Maize and Blue was an unusual look for her, anyway.
“I wear a lot of Michigan stuff,” Tihnae said. “My friends are like, ‘Dang, you really love this school.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. I’ve wanted to go here for a long time.’”
The youngest in a close-knit family, and the first to attend college, Tihnae had her sights set on U-M from an early age. So she spent her first semester relishing nearly every minute of the freshman experience, from dining hall meals at South Quad (“Whatever you’re feeling, they probably have it”) to hanging out with friends in the multicultural housing community at West Quad to her busy schedule of classes and meetings. She also has a part-time job at the Alumni Association, where she hands out bagels and hot drinks to students during Welcome Wednesdays.
The LEAD Scholars Program, which helps Tihnae pay for her room, board, and other expenses, has its own calendar of events, including social gatherings—Halloween was especially fun—and regular meetings with her peer mentor and fellow LEAD scholar, sophomore Blake Preston.
“Sometimes I forget, and I have to look at my calendar to see what I’ve done,” she admitted. “Sometimes I’m busy all day. The only time I can hang out with my friends is at night, so we stay up really late and then I have to get up early. It does get hectic, so having that support system through LEAD is really helpful.”
Being busy is nothing new—in high school Tihnae worked two jobs during the year and three in the summer, even as she juggled a heavy rotation of extracurriculars and maintained her high GPA. But like most college freshmen, she was still getting used to managing her time without the structure of high school and family life. She now has to find time to eat, instead of looking forward to a regular lunch break. And then there was laundry day.
“My dad actually used to do my laundry,” she said. “It’s not that hard—you just throw the Tide Pod in. But it’s all the way down in the basement, and the cycles last like 45 minutes, so I have to remember to go down and get it and put it in the dryer for another 45 minutes. Then sometimes all the washers and dryers are really busy, because everybody does laundry on Sundays.”
College life is usually too much fun for homesickness to set in, Tihnae said, but she does miss her family. Trips home to Kalamazoo, Michigan, have been limited—although it’s only 90 minutes down I-94; season football tickets have kept her in Ann Arbor many weekends. Tihnae and her parents and siblings stay in touch via phone calls and group text messages, and she is diligent about sharing her college experience with them through pictures and videos—“especially at the Big House!”
With midterms behind her, Tihnae was looking forward to Thanksgiving, when she would get to relax with family and indulge in some of her parents’ home cooking. “Whenever I go home, my mom and dad make my favorite things—macaroni, greens,” she said. Her family was still getting used to having her away, and they treated each of her homecomings like special occasions. They also had mixed feelings, Tihnae confided, about the adventurous plans she was already sketching out for the future.
“I definitely want to study abroad,” she said. She was thinking about applying for a Maize Away experience called Black Paris, a three-week course on the diaspora of African culture. And if she could find another summer trip that didn’t overlap, she might be able to do two.
Of course, first there would be a winter calculus course to get through and her application to the Ross School of Business to complete. (Currently enrolled in LSA, she is seeking to transfer.) But Tihnae already had her passport, and she would spend the winter dreaming about her first trip overseas.
“I’ve never actually been on an airplane—but I really want to see the world!”
Amy Crawford is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Smithsonian, The Boston Globe, and Nature Conservancy magazine. Follow her on Twitter @amymcrawf.
The LEAD Scholars Program provides scholarships to African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students who have been accepted into U-M. Visit umalumni.com/LEAD to learn how you can support the program and, thus, help create a more diverse campus.