“Because my father made me,” Victoria Brock says when asked why she chose to attend Jackson State University. Her response is followed by a gush of laughter giving the impression that she is only half joking. Or, perhaps not.
Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018, is the official “Move-In Day” for freshmen and transfer students on the campus of the HBCU. Brock, a psychology major, is leaning against the door inside her room at McAllister Whiteside Residence Hall. Her two younger sisters wear expressions of indifference interrupted by occasional smiles.
Brock’s father, Ronnie, first attended JSU in ’76 but was unable to complete his degree at that time. Several years ago, he re-enrolled and in 2013 graduated with a bachelor’s in graphic design. Ronnie’s oldest son is also a senior at the university and now it’s time for his eldest daughter to make her mark at the HBCU.
Brock says: “I wanted to come. My dad told me some good stories. He said it was a good school, a good environment and it was close by.”
Saying goodbye will be bittersweet for Brock’s mother, Brenda. “But it is time to let her go. She’s an adult now. I want her to get a good education and make something of herself,” she reasons before admitting that she will probably cry on the way back to their hometown of McComb.
But both mom and dad agree that the freshman is in good hands at JSU.
“It’s a family atmosphere and a nurturing environment. It’s totally safe,” Ronnie says. “We’re comfortable with leaving her here, and I think it will be a good experience for her.”
An entrepreneur with a design business, Ronnie points out visible changes in the HBCUs efficiency over the years. “I have seen Jackson State grow from the long lines, whether it was housing or financial aid, to no lines at all.” He says, “This experience of unloading, the first I’ve seen done this way. It was excellent. We didn’t have to ask if someone could help us. All we had to do was pull (our car) up.”
Dr. William B. Bynum, Jr., president of the university, conveys similar feelings as he explains that of all his associations with various universities, no one does Move-In Day quite like Jackson State.
“The number of volunteers we have; the number of organizations; the number of students who come out to help is beautiful.” Bynum says, “It’s nothing like seeing that smile on parents’ faces when they pull up to the corner, and there’s a bunch of people running up to the car to help them unpack. So, I am just really pleased with the process today.”
Out of the many occasions that happen in the academic year, Move-In Day is a long-standing favorite of the president. Bynum says he takes great pleasure in observing the sense of pride parents show as they leave their children to embark on a journey in higher education.
He and his wife, Deborah, will spend the day walking the entire campus reassuring families that their children, now Tigers, will be cared for by compassionate faculty, staff and alumni at a place where student-centeredness is the foundation.
“We’ll take the baton from here and make sure we continue to develop their son or daughter.” He explains, “On Sunday, during new student convocation, some of the things said will hopefully help them feel that they have made a wise decision choosing Jackson State.”
Mass communications major Gabrielle Baker, a senior, is experiencing déjà vu. “I remember my move-in day. I had my mom’s car, my dad’s car and they thought about renting me a U-Haul,” says Baker who is spending the day volunteering.
The newly named Miss Jackson State University says teamwork and collegiality are also on full display as she nods to the various alumni, Greek and community organizations unpacking vehicles and filling gray tubs to the brim with freshmen essentials. “This is just amazing to see everyone come together helping. It’s exciting,” she adds with an ample smile.
Nora Gayles says her daughter Artiscia Blackman chose JSU because she wanted to get away from Chicago. “She didn’t want me to pop up on her,” says Gayles with a hint of emotion in her voice. It is the first time the mother and daughter will have such a large distance between them.
“At first, I didn’t want her to go, but this is a good experience for her. I told her I wasn’t going to embarrass her and cry. But I know I’m going to have to go in the car and cry,” she says.
A graduate of Jackson State and a former Prancing J-Sette, Gayles’ aunt influenced Blackman’s decision to attend the university. “So we knew a little history about the school. More than anything I want her to get the HBCU experience.” Mom says, “Of course, I also want her to come home with a degree.”
Attending an HBCU was a common theme found among many of the incoming freshmen like Anejia Mann of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I did some research on it, and I liked what I found out. I’m going to miss home, but I don’t think I’m going to miss it as much as everyone thinks,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve been at home my whole life. I’ve always wanted to move out of state for as long as I can remember.”
Mann also says she is prepared to learn the vast differences in high school and college culture and despite being a little anxious, she is ready for the start of the semester.
Kyndal Coleman, Mann’s bestfriend also from the Mitten State, enrolled in the university’s summer development program that gives potential scholars a second opportunity for admission.
“I always wanted to come down South. I like the heat, and I’m tired of the snow,” says the criminal justice major. The Southern hospitality is also inspiring to the freshmen. “Back at home, I’m not used to people speaking and being friendly. I had to realize that I needed to step out my comfort zone,” shares Coleman.
Mann’s father DeJohn also finds satisfaction in the amiable nature of the people he’s encountered so far. “Everyone is respectful, nice and helpful. It’s a very family-oriented atmosphere.”
While traditionally men are usually expected to be emotionless pillars, DeJohn has no trouble admitting he is overwhelmed by the thought of his daughter growing up and will probably shed a tear when he leaves on Monday.
“That’s my baby. I have to hold her down. I’m very proud that she’s sticking to it. This is her dream, and she’s going to conquer it,” he says. “We had a problem with the financial aspect, but she made sure she took care of it. So, I’m confident that she is going to do well.”
DeJohn adds that he wants his daughter to grow into herself and “this is where you do it, at an HBCU.”
Eighteen-year-old Jack Strouse is a freshman from Orange County, California. Studying business management, he hopes to later pursue an MBA and then graduate with a law degree from UCLA. He is also one of three quarterbacks for the JSU Tigers.
“We’re trying to change the culture with the football team. I think we’re going to go out there and have a season that is the flipside of last year’s record,” he says pausing from helping students move into Dixon Residence Hall. “I think we’re going to be pretty good this year. I’m ready to start my classes and for all the campus activities.”
Strouse explains that he was recruited to the University by quarterback coach A.J. Smith. But it was the additional warmth of coaches Tony Hughes and Hal Mumme when Strouse came for a campus visit that made him commit immediately.
“I thought this was the place I wanted to be for the next four years,” he says.
The Q.B. shrugs off any talk of nervousness about the upcoming season. But he does admit to feeling a slight pressure to perform. “Some of the guys have talked about the fans. They love you when you’re doing well, and they don’t love you as much when you’re doing bad.” Strouse laughs, “So we just have to get out there and prove ourselves to all the doubters.”