Forging bonds from the start through the Shirley Chisholm Living-Learning Community
“I’ve met amazing people that I still look to for friendship, and I’ve also met younger underclassmen whom I feel would definitely do an amazing job of taking over and continuing the legacy.”
Qiana Pierre had no idea about Mount Holyoke when she started looking into colleges. The Posse Scholar simply knew she didn’t want to be a burden to her mother and that she wanted to go to a school that had a strong community.
It was when she was in the process of interviewing for the Posse scholarship that she found out about Mount Holyoke from her mentor in the program. “She told me about Mount Holyoke, and she was like, ‘You know, I think this is a good fit for you,’” Pierre said. “So when I got the call that I received my scholarship, that I was selected to be a part of my Posse, I was super happy, but I was also like, ‘I don’t know what Mount Holyoke is. I don’t know the place. I don’t really know what I'm getting myself into.’ But I do know that I made a promise to myself to kind of step outside my bubble and make sure that financially I was set.”
And in the last four years, Pierre — who is majoring in computer science and minoring in Africana studies — has definitely stepped outside of her bubble and become involved in a number of programs at the College.
“If I did not go to Mount Holyoke, I probably wouldn’t have majored in CS. The small classes really gave me a chance to shine.”
She became involved in the first program as a result of her reaction to Mount Holyoke during a weekend visit for admitted students. “When I came on campus, I’m not going to lie — I was worried,” said Pierre. “I just felt out of place. … I’m not saying I wouldn’t thrive in it, but I just felt like I didn’t have anyone who looked like me, if I’m being quite honest.”
It was important for Pierre, who’s Haitian, to have a strong support network, especially since she grew up surrounded by diversity and different languages, and most of her friends from her hometown of Miami weren’t traveling as far as she was to go to college. Her Posse mentor offered some advice: Why not join the Shirley Chisholm Living-Learning Community? The community residential floor is designed to support students of African descent, those who identify with the African diaspora or those who wish to nurture connections with the cultures of the diaspora.
Other seniors and juniors that Pierre met at the time also encouraged her, Pierre said, and were sweet with their tips and questions. “Why are you coming here? You know, you’re going to like it. Definitely sign up to live in the Shirley. Here are the groups you should get involved with,” Pierre said, recalling the conversations she had.
She followed their advice, and while living in the Shirley, Pierre forged bonds with students she believes she wouldn’t have found on campus otherwise, including people from different class years. Although the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic sent her back home to Miami, once she returned to campus her junior year, Pierre became even more involved with Mount Holyoke student groups.
She’s a member of MHACASA, the Mount Holyoke African and Caribbean Student Association, and APAU, the Mount Holyoke Association of Pan-African Unity. And during her third year at the College, she also joined the citywide chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, a historically African American sorority that focuses on service, sisterhood and social action, and whose members also include students from nearby Smith College, University of Massachusetts, American International College and Westfield State University.
“Joining these organizations is part of my journey and experience at Mount Holyoke and part of my highlights,” Pierre said. “I’ve met amazing people that I still look to for friendships, and I’ve also met younger underclassmen whom I feel would definitely do an amazing job of taking over and continuing the legacy.”
Being a part of these Black identity groups on campus, Pierre has also been able to polish her leadership skills. She is currently vice president of her sorority, as well as the Caribbean co-chair of MHACASA and community service coordinator of APAU. A particular highlight for her was when she helped lead a necessities drive for APAU in collaboration with five other student organizations. They raised over $900 in financial donations alone, she said, and were able to donate that to MERCYhouse.
“I’m really, really proud of that because sometimes I feel like in Mount Holyoke, we live in this little bubble, and we don’t realize that we have a community outside that can use our help or utilize the skills and resources that we have access to,” Pierre said. “Getting other Mount Holyoke students involved was really important to me because I’m a very big advocate of community service.”
On top of her community service and extracurriculars, Pierre is also motivated academically — and she credits Mount Holyoke’s supportive environment for helping her with classwork. A self-described indoor child, Pierre knew she was interested in computers and technology. But she also knew her chosen major, computer science (CS), would be difficult to stick with.
“When I talk to other folks and they ask why CS, I always tell them that if I did not go to Mount Holyoke, I probably wouldn’t have majored in CS,” Pierre said. “It’s really because of a lot of the support that’s surrounded me through my classes. I was also able to beat imposter syndrome. The small classes really gave me a chance to shine.”
To prevent herself from burning out, Pierre also started taking dance and Africana studies classes outside her major as soon as she started her first year. She enjoyed giving her brain a much-needed break from CS. “So I just kept doing that since I started, and then I looked back during my senior year and realized I had enough credits to become an Africana studies minor.”
She was thrilled to qualify for the minor, which, in hindsight, she realized she had wanted all along. “I am a firm believer that what’s for me will come to me,” said Pierre, who hopes to eventually work in user experience and user interface to make tech more accessible. “I’ve been doing my best and making sure I’m taking the initiative to do what needs to get done.”