Niara Program mentors women students of color

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Autumn Babas, Staff Reporter

The Niara Program at Grand Valley State University brings a fresh start to another exciting year with their kick off event Monday, Sept. 16. This student success program was crafted for students who identify as women of color. It provides students encouragement to achieve their personal and professional goals, offers service learning opportunities and builds strong relationships at GVSU with people who identify with similar identities.

The Niara program is one of the four main programs through Laker Connections. These programs provide academic support and intertwine a cultural component. They also offer leadership experience and encourage personal growth through dialogue and support.

“Niara provides a space and an opportunity for (women of color) to come together with others that have similar interests and the same identity, so that they don’t feel alone,” said Sharalle Arnold, Associate Director of the Center for Women and Gender Equity and Niara program coordinator. “They know they’re around people that want to see them be successful.”

The kick off for Niara will be held in the Kirkhof Center room 2266, from 4-6 p.m. Anyone is welcome to join and learn about this program, but focus is held specifically on women of color. The evening will include a more in-depth description of Niara, and students will be able to explore all the resources it provides. There will also be the chance to see the space where Niara is located and experience some creative expressions with a dynamic cultural component.

“These meetings aren’t just for the cultural component, but for academic support as well,” said Alex Montgomery, Assistant Director of the Center for Women and Gender Equity and Niara program coordinator. “We are definitely going to be checking in with our participants making sure the first month of school has been going well and we’ll connect them to whatever resources they will need.”

A GVSU student created the Niara Program almost 10 years ago. The word Niara means: “One with purpose.” Since then, it has continued to thrive, creating a strong impact on students and enhancing overall college experiences.

On average, the program has meetings once a month. These meetings include important topics such as career guidance, networking, leadership development, racial and gender expectations and goal setting. The program features a lot of hands on work, especially with leadership development, and schedules civic engagement opportunities for students.

It also has service learning and social activities with other mentor programs for students of color, such as the Black Male Scholar Initiative and Laker Familia. Each participant will be paired with a GVSU faculty or staff woman of color who will help the student in anyway they need. There is also the opportunity to engage in leadership opportunities, social and wellness activities and lunchtime discussions.

“Sometimes we will do one-on-one meetings and sometimes we meet with groups to make sure they have that special support,” Montgomery said. “As a whole, we’ve had a strong storytelling component within the group.”

Niara focuses on women of color sharing their own stories. There is a strong presence of writing, reflection and introspection. Oftentimes they bring in speakers at meetings and partner with different offices, depending on the aspects they are honing in on for the month being.

Outside of academic and professional development, Niara also incorporates days where students can relax and have fun with their peers.

“Sometimes we will have a game night, especially when we need to relax during finals,” Montgomery said. “After we check in, we will grab the board games and cards.”

Niara’s vision ultimately is to encourage growth and eliminate under-representation on campus and in the workplace. The program creates satisfaction in one’s life and leads to a brighter future overall by having a safe place with people to go to and rely on.