Incoming freshmen Ciera Jeffries, Greg Vives, and Rafael Rivero were cleaning tables and moving furniture when they heard the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.
“My whole family texted me,” Rivero recalled. “All of my friends Snapchatted me.”
“We all just started rejoicing,” Jeffries said.
The three were volunteering at the local D.C. nonprofit CentroNía alongside the 50 other students in AU’s Summer Transition Enrichment Program, or STEP. As soon as they finished their duties, the trio and 30 others rushed down to the Supreme Court.
“It was so interesting,” Jeffries said. “Everyone kept saying, ‘Guys, we’ll be able to tell our kids that we were down at the Supreme Court when gay marriage was legalized.’ We were there making history.”
When they arrived that afternoon, they found a host of people waving flags and celebrating the verdict on the steps of the nation’s highest court.
“It felt amazing,” Vives recalled. “Just to be there meant so much to me as an ally.”
For Rivero—a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico—he appreciated the historical and human aspects of the event.
“I had to go. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was really cool to see everyone from the LGBT community and their supporters,” he said. He also respected the presence of vocal protestors, saying, “It was nice to see both sides.”
Marlena McKnight oversees the STEP program through AU’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion. Though the group had planned to attend the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival that day, she was thrilled to see students take advantage of D.C. as their classroom.
“They were able to spontaneously witness that history but also bond with each other, learn about each other, and learn about this issue. A lot of students were familiar with the case, but some weren’t,” she explained. “It was a great opportunity for learning.”
As a political science major and all-around politics wonk, Vives couldn’t agree more. “This is the best place to be if you’re a political person,” he said of the District and AU.
Crash Course in AU
STEP students participate in a seven-week program designed to help them more easily enter college life and its academic rigors. Students take a pre-college writing course as well as a three or four-credit course in the second half of the summer.
“It’s fun,” Rivero said. “The classes and the seminars are demanding, but that’s how college is going to be. Better to prepare myself now than later.”
As part of that preparation, offices—from the Counseling Center and Academic Support & Access Center to AU Abroad and Student Activities—lead seminars on how they can help students succeed at AU. All the while, students build classroom confidence and familiarity with university-style learning.
STEP also connects its participants with academic advisors and faculty members from various disciplines in order to start plotting students’ academic trajectories.
“The goal is that they don’t spend the first seven weeks of the semester transitioning. Instead, they can start off running. The expectation, then, is that they can have a very successful AU experience,” McKnight explained.
Still, STEP offers other impressive aspects, like young alumni panels on Capitol Hill and at the Associated Press building. It’s perhaps experiences like these—and that day at the Supreme Court—that best affirm these students’ decision to attend AU.
“I came to AU because it’s a very inclusive campus and school. That day, I got to see that D.C. is also a very inclusive city,” Rivero explained. “It was a learning experience for me about the city I’ll be living in for the next four years.”