What is a Presidential Diversity Scholar?

By: 
Kaelyn Kohlasch
Class of: 
2018

Attending college is like being immersed in your own little bubble, and once enrolled at St. Lawrence University, the small-town-feel of the North Country will immediately engulf you in its tight-knit community. As a small liberal arts school, SLU definitely has that intimate feel people love, yet it also embraces the responsibility of providing a diverse environment for its students. What better opportunity than college, where people from all walks of life are gathered together as a resource to learn from, to consider complex matters such as race, gender, sexuality, physical and mental challenges, and culture?

St. Lawrence makes every effort to make attending college, an expensive venture, a realistic option for all students regardless of background or socioeconomic status, and a variety of scholarships are offered each year to meet this goal. Unlike some universities, being the valedictorian of your graduating class is not required to receive a significant scholarship from St. Lawrence. While SLU certainly recognizes academic achievement in the form of merit scholarships, one thing I love about St. Lawrence is that it combines its commitment to diversity with its dedication to creating an affordable college experience for all students, and this is done through the Presidential Diversity Scholarship (PDS). I am a proud recipient of the PDS, and I really appreciate that my university recognizes the value of skills and efforts made outside of the classroom, something that creates a well-rounded individual that can positively contribute to the St. Lawrence community.

To be a PDS recipient, you must be able to provide evidence for the following statement: describe how you have demonstrated leadership, service, or activism through diversity, and how that experience will contribute to diversity at St. Lawrence University. In other words, any student who has demonstrated leadership, commitment, and activism for racial and ethnic diversity are eligible for this scholarship. In recent years, the scholarship has been broadened to also include students who identify as LGBTQ, students who are members of non-Christian religions, and students with disabilities that have shown leadership, service, or activism within their demographic. Once a PDS scholar, that student is granted a $128,000 scholarship over the course of the next four years, a large sum that strongly aligns with the university’s priority to create a diverse learning experience for all students.

As the name indicates, PDS scholars are a truly diverse group of individuals. Just by looking at me, I don’t know if the first word that comes to mind would be “diverse”; my appearance conveys a stereotypical able-bodied, white female from a middle-class background. However, these characteristics do not prevent me from doing my best to appreciate and support forms of diversity that are different from myself, something I exemplified in high school by getting involved with refugees from my school and in my broader community. As a SLU student, I became a part of the Diversity Committee, which works to create an environment where all students feel comfortable to realize their own pursuits on campus, and through this committee I became a mentor for incoming PDS scholars.

I am very lucky to be a part of such a diverse group of scholars, and I find myself regularly inspired by the efforts some of my fellow classmates are making on campus to make SLU an open and accepting place. Lewis Fragoso ’18 is a perfect example of such a student; he has created programs on campus that raise awareness and celebrate his Native American heritage. “Coming into college as a Native American, I found that there wasn't really a Native presence on campus, and I decided to really try and pick up the Native American Student Alliance (NASA)," he says. "Being a Presidential Diversity Scholar has also put me in touch with some wonderful people who've given me a lot of guidance and helped me with NASA.” Lewis has overseen the production of many successful events on campus, including a few fried bread dough tea times with the International House on campus and a movie screening of “Indian in the Cupboard,” which was followed by a discussion where more than 30 people attended. Looking forward, Lewis has scheduled another movie viewing in the Student Center and is considering bringing Native dancers onto campus to put on a demonstration for those interested in the lives of the Native people.

This scholarship has not only given me the opportunity to meet and work alongside a lot of bright and driven scholars, but the financial aid also made attending this university possible. St. Lawrence has exposed me to many diverse people and experiences, and I have been able to explore my interests and get involved with a variety of clubs and activities that I am passionate about. Being a PDS scholar can  and does open a lot of doors for motivated students willing to get involved in their communities.