From IWU Magazine, Summer 2014

Conquering Doubts

Chaunta Love
Chaunta Love has come a long way from the young woman who wasn’t sure she’d make it her first month on campus. She is now president of Martin Hall, student manager of the Dugout and active in the Black Student Union.

On a panel of first-generation students speaking to IWU faculty and staff this spring, Chaunta Love talked about her mom, who got pregnant with her at 17 and was so proud when her daughter graduated from high school without a child in her arms.

Love’s mother told her it was okay if she didn’t go any further with her education, but the teen was determined not to stop. And yet when she got to college she didn’t know where to begin. She’d see her professors during office hours but she didn’t know what questions to ask.

“I didn’t know what I didn’t understand,” Love said, holding back tears. “I was struggling. It’s just so hard. We just aren’t equipped. We just don’t know how, we just don’t know —” Unable to continue, she let the panel move on, but later asked if she could speak again. Finishing strong is important to her.

That’s how Love completed high school, with a 3.9 GPA. After looking at about 10 colleges, she started filling out an application for IWU but stopped when a teacher told her Wesleyan was out of reach because her ACT score was a few points lower than the posted first-year average.

An advisor who had met with IWU’s Admissions staff encouraged Love to finish the application. A few weeks later, she learned she’d been accepted but still wasn’t sure she’d fit in. Then an email arrived, inviting her to campus for a Multicultural Weekend for high school seniors and telling her about the University’s pre-orientation program that helps multicultural freshmen make a smooth transition into college life.

 “I really loved this campus,” she says. “I really loved the people. Everybody was so friendly, so willing to help me. I signed my papers and sent them in the day I got home.

“The only thing I knew about college was that it was expensive,” Love adds. “I didn’t know how to do the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] or any of that. I didn’t do anything to prepare for college except work and save money because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know anything about the transition, about being away from home.”

Her first two weeks at IWU she was so homesick she didn’t leave her room except to go to class. Classmates on her floor she’d met during Multicultural Weekend finally persuaded her to go out. Love began to discover how much help there was out there. Her advisor, a counselor, and professors all understood homesickness and told her to let them know if she needed to talk or vent or felt like she was falling behind. “That made me feel really welcome here, at home and comfortable,” she says. Still, it remained hard to ask for help.

“It’s been me and my mom and my brother forever. My mom had to work all the time so it was me caring for my brother, and I was the person he depended on, so I never really asked for help. I just figured it out on my own or tried to make a way out of no way.”

Although Love knew college would be tougher than high school, she was shocked at the low score she received on her first biology exam. She called her mother, who couldn’t help her decide whether to drop the class.

“She kept telling me to do whatever I thought was best but I was going to her because I didn’t know what was best.”

Love dropped the class, required for her psychology major. Some suggested she take it at a community college, but she’s going to take it as a junior at Illinois Wesleyan this fall.

“I feel like I can do it here. I can be successful in this class. If I have to go to a professor’s office hours every time they’re open, that’s what I will be doing.”

That’s a long way from the young woman who wasn’t sure she’d make it her first month on campus. Now Love is president of Martin Hall, student manager of the Dugout and active in the Black Student Union.

Love’s drive may partly be a testament to having a starker view than most college students about her options. “Dropping out definitely crossed my mind,” Love admits. But then she thought about how her mother had to work multiple low-wage jobs just to make ends meet.

“I didn’t want to have to do that,” she says.

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