Engage 2.0: A New Mentorship Program to Bring Sense of Community

Engage 2.0 is a mentorship program as well as a program designed to help create safe spaces for Black students. Right now, it’s physical space is centered around half of Sunderland’s first floor. One of the mentors living there, Katlyn Kelley, wants to help educate people on the topic. 

“Engage is a mentorship program that focuses on incoming Black students,” said Kelly, arms neatly folded. “It’s really hard to be a person of color on campus. Engage is supposed to help the new people of color come into the community without feeling isolated.” 

Kelly also said that Warren Wilson College is a diverse school — just not in terms of race. 

“We have a lot of different people, from different backgrounds, but everyone knows there aren’t that many Black people here,” Kelly continued. “Engage is supposed to make the Black students we do have feel safer, and less isolated, so that we have a lasting community here.” 

Eliniya Black, a basketball player, had more to say. 

“I’m not fully a member of Engage, because I don’t live in Sunderland, but I’m a friend of Engage,” said Black. “It’s kind of a subgroup of Engage. I’m here to help promote Engage, and just be a support. Just like any other friend.” 

She also touched on the lack of Black people on campus. 

“Warren Wilson isn’t the most diverse school,” Black said. “I think we’ve needed something like this for a long time. Having the comfort of a community on campus, a BIPOC community, also helps make it feel a little more like home.” 

The head of Engage 2.0, Nicole Barnes, went into deep detail about the creation of the mentorship program. 

“It was myself, Jeremy Lett, Clarissa Harris and Ashley Costantino, and we thought that students of color needed more voice on campus,” Barnes said. 

Barnes went on to say that Engage had, in fact, been a program even before they decided to revive it. 

“We wanted to do something that didn’t have to do with work, and didn’t have to do with academics, and we thought: ‘hey — let’s bring back Engage.’” 

Then COVID-19 hit, and the creation of Engage was delayed. 

“We had trips to Atlanta planned, and we had events planned — but none of it panned out because of COVID. We still wanted to have events to ring in the fall though, so we tried to plan,” Barnes said. 

Unfortunately, Lett and Harris would leave Warren Wilson, and Costantino would move to a leadership position in housing. This left Barnes in leadership, and decided that she would still go ahead with the creation of Engage. 

“We, the original team, planned Engage to be a student-led leadership program opportunity and it continues to evolve with student involvement,” Barnes added. “We want to continue working with students to provide additional resources on campus of what they are searching for. Instead of always talking about the heaviness that comes with being BIPOC at a primarily white institution (PWI), we want this to be seen as leaders on campus, learning and thriving within a BIPOC community and bringing awareness to a PWI campus more and more each day.”

Barnes wanted to make it clear that although a large reason Engage took longer than planned to start was also because of the wish to make Engage as separate from outside interference as possible. 

“We really didn’t want this to be seen as a retention strategy,” she said. “That wouldn’t be fair — so I really tried to structure this in a way that it was student led. I wanted students to be able to shape Engage the way they wanted. They should be able to make this program fun to be in, and unstressful.” 

It was also made clear that Engage and it’s activities were never supposed to be stressful or feel like work — just the opposite. 

“We had students telling us that they were tired of going to black-centric events about topics like slavery, and black people suffering,” Barnes said. “(Black students) said ‘we want things that are fun, and exciting, and have leadership involved.’ Engage is supposed to be about support, and give students time to just enjoy being black students on campus.” 

Ultimately, Engage is about building a community on a campus where BIPOC people don’t always have the ability to form one. It’s supposed to support Black freshmen, and ultimately provide them with the means to reach out to other Black students, and maybe even find a place where they can feel at home.