Student leaders reflect on impact of orientation program

Orientation program pairs students of color, LGBTQ+ students and students with high financial need with returning student mentors.

September 14, 2022
E3 participants and leaders pose for a photo

For the past two years, a reimagined Equitable Exeter Experience program has greeted dozens of new students arriving on campus from less-traditional backgrounds than many of their classmates. In the days leading up to the official start of school, students of color, students who identify as high financial need, students who are the first in their families to attend college, and students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community are provided with information on the resources available to them at the Academy, practice Harkness discussions and take field trips to various Seacoast attractions.

In 2021, Director of Equity and Inclusion Stephanie Bramlett and Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion Kevin Pajaro-Mariñez revived the program after a three-year hiatus.

“For some students, this is the most diverse place they’ve ever been," Bramlett said. "For other students this is the least diverse place they’ve ever been. So, what does it feel like to sit around the table and have the conversations about identity, which we’re asking them to do all the time, at a school like Exeter?”

Participants are also paired with returning student mentors, giving them an outlet for questions during the program and the weeks that follow.

“This program is for the mentors as much as it is for the mentees,” Bramlett said. “This is the beauty of Exeter — everything that we do, we are growing together. So as mentors are leading, they are also learning,”

Two such mentors, Kodi Lopez ’23 and Alexander Luna ’24 provided reflections on their experiences as mentors during this year’s program:

I believe so heavily in the E3 program because my one piece of advice that I preach to new students is to find people on campus that remind them of home, and E3 allows this to happen as soon as their first day on campus. My first group of mentees grew to be very close with one another, and I have watched them accomplish great things in their first year here while leaning on each other for support. In my second year as a mentor, I was able to facilitate a low-income affinity group. I heard new students express their relief knowing that there were other students like them on campus, something that I only felt late into my lower fall, when I attended my first Association of Low-Income Exonians meeting. I could only imagine how much fuller my Exeter experience could have been if I had attended the E3 program. During my prep fall, I felt overwhelmed and lost. Exeter was so different from my hometown. While I was used to everyone in East Los Angeles being Mexican like me, I rarely saw Mexicans at Exeter. I was struggling with housing while classmates talked about visiting their many vacation homes during the summer. I felt like no-one shared the same story as me. Then, an amazing senior entered my life during early Winter term. I expressed to Giovanna Romero that I missed home, and one evening she welcomed me to hang in her room. Gio was also Mexican. She grew up in California and experienced familiar financial struggles like me. She gathered other Mexican students in her room and offered us familiar and spicy Mexican candy. We spoke in our Chicano accents, and for the first time I felt a sense of home at Exeter. She continued to be an amazing support system my prep Winter, introducing me to the OMA office and encouraging me to attend my affinity groups, places that I now love and cherish. Although I eventually found my place at Exeter, I always wished I had found it sooner. E3 participants get to meet supportive upperclassmen much sooner, hear similar stories from peers and mentors who share their identity, and most importantly would not have wasted months feeling alone in their experiences and identities like I once was. I believe so heavily in the E3 program because it bridges new students like I once was to amazing mentors like Giovanna Romero, enabling success at Exeter early on, and bringing a sense of home to new minority Exonians.

— Kodi Lopez ‘23

Being a student of E3 as a lower was probably one of my favorite experiences at Exeter. It was a great way for me to acclimate to being at Exeter, coming from a year of online schooling beforehand. I was introduced to tons of new people through the activities. The experience as a mentee led me to want to become a mentor. I thought it would be cool if I could impart some of the things I learned during my two years at Exeter to the mentees to help them with the transition. What I didn’t realize was how impactful the new students would be on me. I got to meet dozens of new people, even some that shared a similar background. I even met someone who lives near where I live and who was a part of the same program that introduced me to Exeter. No matter who you meet, I truly believe that the bonds made in E3 last throughout your time at Exeter. The activities that were planned by Dr. Bramlett, Mr. Pajaro-Mariñez, and the other faculty aided in this process a lot. Aside from the orientation, there were no lecture-based events. This allowed a flow between the mentees and even the mentors, as regularly the activities brought the two groups together. This year’s group of students truly shined in these activities. They didn’t shy away from tackling tough questions and talking about identity. I also enjoyed the time when we got to interact on our own. The Hilltop Fun Center was a great way to start the program. Even though it rained, and we couldn’t do any of the outdoor activities, the arcade machines were just as fun. You would see groups of students cheering for one another as they watched people playing the crane machines or the punching machine. Through my interactions with all the mentees, I know that they will be able to exceed at Exeter. I look forward to seeing all the participants of E3, both mentors and mentees, on the path and saying hello!

— Alexander Luna ‘24