By Emily Glory Peters
Natalia Alameda ’25, Vanessa Gutierrez ’25, and Jon’nae Sylvester ’24 come from different backgrounds, but they all share some common ground: they’re underrepresented students at Scripps.
As exceptional scholars, each became aware of Scripps College through QuestBridge, a program designed to help high-achieving, economically disadvantaged students attend college.
Since 2005, QuestBridge has partnered with Scripps to match scholars to the College in exchange for full tuition—similar to an early decision system. The program is largely dependent on Scripps donors, whose gifts to scholarships help the College extend substantial aid both to matched scholars and additional admitted QuestBridge students who enroll outside of the matching program.
“I needed a school that was in a good place regionally, had a community where I could branch out and explore, and could offer me the right financial aid. I ultimately chose Scripps,” says Sylvester, who hails from New Orleans. Raised in Weslaco, Texas, Alameda was also attracted by the idea of a completely new environment.
“Scripps was among my top college choices because I needed to be out in the world and experience real life,” she says. “Scripps offered me this and more.”
Moving through unchartered territory as an underrepresented student at Scripps
Coming into this new environment is not without its challenges for underrepresented students. Economic, geographic, and social culture shock is real, Gutierrez says, and it can be tough to find your place in the intimate residential atmosphere of Scripps.
“Underrepresented students can feel isolated at a predominantly white institution (PWI). There’s a huge difference in cultures,” she shares, noting that even the affluence of the surrounding Claremont Village can fuel that otherness (“fourteen dollars for avocado toast?!”). The pandemic revealed these differences in experiences are not exclusive to campus: When Sylvester opted to begin her first year remotely, she found it tough to connect with her peers—but not just because they were separated by a screen.
“New Orleans kept getting hurricanes, and at times I didn’t even have power to go to class. I also didn’t really have a space to do Zoom. I would just be in my room, making sure my mom or sister didn’t come in,” she says. A housing grant, funded by Scripps donors, helped her secure a new living situation that improved her classroom experience. While tuition is covered, Sylvester says she can’t help but feel concerned about finances.“It’s why I choose to work a lot,” she says, “but as it doesn’t give me a lot of time to go to office hours and I can only go to tutoring at night, sometimes I do feel that it may interfere with my classes.”
Donor support of scholarships is the launchpad, but programming is just as important for underrepresented students
Understanding these challenges is crucial for the immediate College community, as well as donors who want to support greater economic and cultural diversity in Scripps’ student body.
Continuing to raise scholarship aid lays the essential groundwork, as this advances Scripps’ goal of becoming “need-blind”—able to admit any qualified student no matter their financial circumstances. Increased scholarship aid will also allow Scripps to offer students more grants instead of loans, which can encourage low-income students to enroll.
Still, as Assistant Dean and Director of Scripps Communities of Resources and Power (SCORE) Marissiko Wheaton puts it, enrolling a greater number of underrepresented students isn’t the end goal.
“A lot of institutions think success is just in the numbers, but we have to create the infrastructure that low-income, undocumented, and first-generation college students need so that they can thrive during college, graduate, and go on to graduate school or start a meaningful career,” she says. “Success is supporting their wellness while they’re here at Scripps.”
SCORE is central to that evolving infrastructure of care. Overseen by Wheaton, the department houses multiple Clubs and Organizations (CLORGs) that are peer-led and offer tailored social and academic support to students from minoritized backgrounds. CLORGs are typically funded through student fees—and scholarships, like those for QuestBridge students, also help cover those fees.
Success is supporting [student] wellness while they’re here at Scripps
As for diminishing that sense of “otherness,” CLORGs’ impact for underrepresented students can’t be overstated.
“Three words: Café con Leche,” says Alameda. “This CLORG has been there to help me navigate through these hard times—the setting and the people involved bring me so much peace! No matter how tired I am from school, socializing, and life, I always look forward to Thursdays because I know Café con Leche will welcome me with open arms.” Sylvester agrees, calling SCORE and its CLORGs a “safe place” for underrepresented students.
“SCORE is a big reason we have community. Most of the affinity CLORGs are held in its offices, so there are lots of Asian, Chicana, and multiracial students. Just being together in the physical space or having fun together doing workshops and events makes a difference—even if it’s just me and my friends going there to watch a movie,” she says.
The QuestBridge Chapter under SCORE is another resource that connects students who identify as low-income or first generation. Like its fellow CLORGs, the club creates leadership opportunities so underrepresented students can wield greater influence over campus culture.
“I’m glad to be at a school that has a QuestBridge chapter—and I’m now its vice president,” says Sylvester. “We recently held a meet and greet and are planning on connecting with chapters at the other Claremont Colleges to build a sense of community. Since most of our members are first generation, their families don’t understand the process. We can give a sense of support, a shoulder to lean on.”
Keck Science’s Summer Science Immersion Program (SScIP) is another donor-funded resource aimed at helping underrepresented students succeed. Incoming students who are interested in STEM join lectures, labs, and fieldwork, explore Los Angeles, and acclimate to campus before the academic year begins.
As undocumented and low-income students often come from underfunded high schools, says SScIP participant Gutierrez, it can be hard to adapt to the rigor of college-level coursework. SScIP, along with CLORGs and tutoring services, are exactly the kind of programming she hopes to see expand for these students at Scripps. Plus, she says, it’s produced yet another valued circle of friendships.
“[In these programs] I’ve found a community of people with similar goals and cultures. The friends I’ve made through them are the same group of friends I have now, and without them I’m sure my first semester of college would have been more lonesome,” she says.
Embracing diversity as a community and the importance of donor support
Creating spaces where underrepresented students can bond is necessary. But, Alameda reflects, increasing diversity at the College is an academic imperative that benefits (and should involve) everyone.
“Scripps has done an amazing job at providing us with a proper education. But they also have to provide a setting where we are surrounded by many people from different races and backgrounds, because we have to realize that’s how it’ll be from now on,” she says. “By expanding diversity, we all get to learn from each other more—about how others think, react, and act. That learning is a gift.”
At Scripps, donors play a greater role in advancing diversity than they might think.
As one of the few women’s colleges in the West, the College has a small but mighty cohort of alums, parents, and friends who are personally invested in the success of future students, even after their own initial association ends. That closeness—and Scripps’ origins as a place for people who were once excluded from higher education—grounds our community in the values of accessibility, diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.
Gifts to Scripps’ recently established Racial Justice and Equity fund have accelerated this process. One major outcome has been the creation of the Associate Dean of Faculty for Racial Equity position. Professor of Chemistry and Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Chair in Natural Sciences Mary Hatcher-Skeers—who has worked with Scripps’ first-generation students for years—is entering her second year in the role, supported by the members of Scripps’ new Equity and Justice Leadership Team.
Hatcher-Skeers, along with the Equity and Justice Leadership Team, is conducting a systematic review of how Scripps can improve its practices, policies, and procedures to create a more diverse and equitable environment. Including student perspectives is key to this work being successful, but Hatcher-Skeers is mindful that underpresented students shouldn’t shoulder its weight.
Coming to Scripps, my mindset has shifted. I’m more of an activist here. I feel like I have more of a voice.
“[Scripps’ early programming] for first-generation and underrepresented students was successful because we centered student voices and were responsive to their needs. That’s taught us the necessity of community involvement. Who better to help direct future programming than the students we serve?” she says. “Of course, these initiatives will require long-term investment.”
Those needs will doubtless fluctuate. As they do, support from Scripps’ leadership, faculty, staff, and donors will be vital to create new resources so all students can enjoy the full scope of the Scripps experience. Specific funds such as scholarship aid, racial justice and equity, academic programs, and mental health and wellness will continue to be philanthropic priorities as the College works to enroll and uplift a wider array of students.
These efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion are necessary, even amid the knowledge that no community—however diverse—will be perfect. But Alameda, Gutierrez, and Sylvester agree they are better people for belonging to and shaping the rare one that exists at Scripps.
“Coming to Scripps, my mindset has shifted,” says Sylvester. “I’m more of an activist here. I feel like I have more of a voice, I feel the need to do more. Back home, I was more like “oh well”—but I’ve changed that completely.” Gutierrez and Alameda share this growing confidence, citing that the obstacles they’ve faced have only served to make them stronger. Says Alameda:
“I’ve become more aware of life and how challenging it is, but I have also learned to overcome these challenges. Since my time at Scripps, I think I am most proud of how mentally mature I’ve become. I can accomplish many things by myself, and that brings me peace.”
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