Senior Camille Thornton runs out of adjectives describing her experience as the first Case Western Reserve University student to participate in the student exchange component of the school's partnership with Fisk University.
"It was simply amazing, and incredible experience," she says of her 15-week term at the Nashville, Tennessee-based historically black college (HBCU). "I know a lot of students choose places like France to study abroad, but I'm very happy to have been able to do something different and not typical.
"Plus, helping this initiative is really great."
The initiative, known as the Case-Fisk Partnership, offers expanded opportunities in education and research for students, faculty, and staff at Case Western Reserve and Fisk. Through the partnership, students have the chance to enroll in dual-degree programs and participate in student exchanges and joint research with a national or international scope.
Thornton is only the second student to participate in the exchange program since its inception in 2002; Ami Barry spent the 2005 fall semester here at Case Western Reserve. Thornton is hoping that her semester abroad at Fisk will lead to more students becoming aware and interested in the program.
"The partnership program has people going back and forth between the campuses several times a year, in addition to the semester exchange," she noted. "But a lot of students don't know about it, or even know what an HBCU is. Hopefully my story will spark an interest or inspire someone to want to find out more. "
She recently talked about her exchange experience as part of a panel discussion/information session "What is an HBCU? And Why Should You Know?"
Fisk is similar to Case Western Reserve in the manner that is located in a major metropolitan area with different types of educational institutions nearby. Its close proximity to Vanderbilt University, Tennessee State, Belmont University and others allowed Thornton to see different types of people in different types of learning environments, just like she does on a daily basis in University Circle. She lived on campus in a dorm and took part in campus life, as if she had been a student at Fisk since day one.
"The campus is so beautiful and there is so much history there: monuments, chapels, Jubilee Hall," she said. "Nashville is a fun place, with a rich history, too. I was walking around wide-eyed for the first few weeks and really taking it all in. It was interesting to meet all sorts of new and different people."
After getting acclimated to her new surroundings, Thornton took part in four courses: "Politics in the Black Community," "The Black Experience," "Women of the Civil Rights Movement," and "Media, Society and Culture," an independent study course. The classes came at a perfect time for someone interested in the roles gender, race and politics play in society and culture, with Senators Clinton and Obama battling for the Democratic Presidential nomination at the time.
"My litmus for a class is if I kept the book afterward," Thornton joke. "I kept everything we read! It was interesting to do both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the Obama-Clinton race, and how gender and race affected it. And the experience class, which looked at things from holistic and human view, and "Women of the Civil Rights Movement" were amazing from a historical standpoint.
Overall, the experience taught Thornton a lot about what she calls the "layers of culture," finding diversity in a place she wasn't expecting it.
"As awkward as it sounds, I learned about differences in people and cultural layers at an HBCU, where initially your thoughts are that everyone there is similar," she said. "But, when you are in a situation where everyone looks similar, you have to look past that and see what makes a person. We have to get past that and talk about ideology— what you think, who you are, what you do— as opposed to gravitating towards people of the same gender or race."
She feels that part of the experience is what she got the most from and what will benefit her the most as she nears graduation and moving on in her life past college. And that's her message to her fellow students here at Case Western Reserve.
"(Learning is) not just about academics. During your matriculation here at Case, it is important to cultivate yourself as a personal with different experiences and different people," the business management/marketing major said. "The more people you meet and the more experiences you have the better person you will be, the sharper you will be in different areas. Case is going to prepare you for your field. But, this is cutting edge, you're able to cultivate what that experience is. Regardless of major, race, gender you can benefit from being (at Fisk). There's someone at that school just like you."
Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.