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Finding community in and outside of community college

September 9, 2022

For many students, their first year of college is a formative experience. Bereníce Flores ’24, Issie Gale ’25 and Jenna Barac ’25 have the unique position of being first-year students for a second time, as part of Bowdoin’s first community college student transfer cohort.

The College updated its transfer credit policy as an effort to ensure a diverse applicant pool. Flores, Gale and Barac are three of five students from this year’s cohort.

Bereníce Flores self-identifies as a ‘quirky’, non-traditional student. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Flores is a published poet and former stand-up comedian, joining the junior class from a community college in Minneapolis.

“I’ve lived a lot of lives,” Flores said, “I’ve sold rugs. I was a realtor for six years at one point. I was a personal trainer … I was a singer in a punk rock band.”

After exploring a variety of careers and hobbies, Flores decided it was time to go back to school.

“When I finally went to community college and I stepped through those doors, I almost walked out,” Flores said.

Flores faced immense challenges throughout high school, due to an undiagnosed learning difference and a challenging home life. With support from faculty at her community college and a thirst for knowledge, her initial belief that she didn’t belong in higher education was squashed.

“I didn’t know I had ADHD,” Flores said.

Similarly, Gale was also unaware of their undiagnosed ADHD. The small, tight-knit community at Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) was the accommodating environment they needed to academically succeed.

“I was really able to connect with my peers, connect with my professors, and establish relationships that helped me get my work done, because I never want to show up to class unprepared and not be able to contribute to the conversation,” Gale said. “So having that element was crucial for me, because if I don’t feel some sort of external force, I will not submit on time.”

In fact, supportive faculty members at SMCC played a big role in Gale becoming the first community college transfer student at the College from Maine.

“When I came for Admitted Students Day [at Bowdoin], the Dean I’d been emailing with mentioned that my English lit professor had been really advocating for me [as well as] my history professor,” Gale said.

Gale’s experience at SMCC also deconstructed their initial skepticism about community college. This distaste for community college stemmed from circulated elitist opinions during Gale’s time at Falmouth High School.

“Leftover ideas that I accidentally learned from Falmouth were completely shed because the SMCC environment and culture—it’s just absolutely incredible,” Gale said.

Gale’s roommate, a community college transfer student from Chicago, also shares positive sentiments towards her institution.

“I definitely felt a lot of shame. I didn’t tell anybody that I was going to community [college] besides the people I trusted [for two years],” Barac said. “I just needed somebody to pull me back and be like, ‘you’re amazing, look at all the accomplishments that you’ve done and look at where you’re gonna go and your whole future ahead of you.’”

Flores, Barac and Gale hope to reframe the language used around community college, deconstructing the biases and misconceptions along the way.

“Just give me the benefit of the doubt that I’m just like a student like you,” Flores said. “Don’t assume that we don’t listen to the same music.”


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