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Black at Rice: Jared Lyons leads by example

Jared Lyons went to a diverse high school in Atlanta, so not seeing many Black students at his residential college freshman year was tough, he said. In his four years at Rice, the Will Rice College senior has sought to make other Black students feel more welcome than he did. (Channing Wang/Thresher)

By Tomás Russo     3/2/21 11:05pm

If not for a serendipitous phone call from Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman, Jared Lyons says he might have left Rice.

“There were times where I honestly wanted to leave Rice because I didn’t feel comfortable here,” Lyons, a Will Rice College senior, said. “Over the summer after freshman year I randomly got a call from Dean Gorman, who was the magister of Will Rice at the time, and she called to check in and see how I was doing.”

Lyons, a computer science major and business minor, says he was miserable both socially and academically freshman year, disappointed in his inability to find the support and community he expected coming into Rice. Gorman’s call reminded Lyons that there was support at Rice, he said, even if it was not what he expected.

“I think that it was definitely a culture shock coming to Rice,” Lyons said. “I had never attended a school where I wasn’t in the majority. Coming here and seeing the tables flipped was difficult at first, especially at my residential college.”

Lyons grew up in Atlanta and said he went to a high school brimming with diversity, an experience that shaped his identity. Lyons said that the lack of Black students at Rice was particularly pronounced at the residential college level.

“After [Orientation] Week, I only saw two other Black male students on a regular basis,” Lyons said. “It was hard to find that sense of community at Will Rice, or just find people to go to and talk about this culture shock together with. That definitely made the transition to Rice pretty rough.”

To make matters worse, Lyons felt that the lack of diversity at the residential college level created a hostile environment for Black students. Even after a whole semester of regular interaction, he said that many of his peers at Will Rice still mixed up his name with the two other Black male Will Ricers, despite their vastly different appearances.

“There were a lot of times I would hear people make insensitive comments to me or around me,” Lyons said. “At first, not knowing these people, I took it very personally, and would resent people and hold grudges against them.”

But over time, Lyons said he realized that many Rice students come from very different backgrounds than he did, and that they may have never really interacted with a Black person before coming to Rice. This led him to go out of his way to have conversations and educate those around him.

“I started having those conversations and educating those students. It helped them develop as people and has helped me become a more open-minded person,” Lyons said. “It’s easier to form connections with people I meet now and share experiences with them and connect with them.”

Lyons eventually found the Black community he missed from home in the Black Male Leadership Initiative.

“I [have] made the most personal connections and met the most people who I’ve become friends with through BMLI,” Lyons said. “The smaller group setting and being able to hear and share the experiences of everyday life on campus with the other Black men at Rice was a great way to make new friends outside of Will Rice. It was reassuring knowing that other people were going through the same kind of culture shock and same level of uncomfort.”

Even though Lyons is grateful for the amazing community he has found outside of Will Rice, he believes that it is important for Black students to find a community at their residential college. Lyons, who is currently chief justice at Will Rice, has done his best to encourage Black students to stay involved within the Will Rice community, he said.

“It has started to feel like a loop where new Black students arrive, [they] connect, they feel welcome here at first, and then over the course of the semester they feel more comfortable outside of Will Rice or go [off campus] and then you won’t see them again,” Lyons said. “Part of the reason I applied to be CJ was because I wanted new incoming Black students to see diversity in the student leadership at the college.”

Lyons emphasizes that efforts should be made during O-Week and freshman year to ensure that Black students can find a welcoming community within their residential college.

“Just because it may seem like we have found a better sense of community doesn’t mean we don’t still want to be involved in our smaller community where we live,” Lyons said. “Right now, we are caught in this loop where new students don’t find the community they are looking for at the residential college and before you know it they are gone already.”

Lyons, who was an O-Week advisor for two years, believes that this vicious cycle can be beaten if current students make themselves more present at the residential college level and welcome new students with open arms.

“[We should] find a way to encourage more African American students to advise and participate in all these programs that involve mentoring or advising the younger students,” Lyons said. “Every opportunity I could get to be present and be a role model for the younger students I have tried to take. I definitely hope the younger Black students at Will Rice will continue to do that.”

Editor’s Note: This is an installment of Black at Rice, a features series intended to highlight and celebrate Black voices on and off campus. Have someone in mind? Nominate them here. 

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