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Senior Janica Mendillo experiences new environment at Brown University

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She stuck out like a sore thumb.

Senior Janica Mendillo’s appearance differed greatly from the majority, but another factor came into play, her economic class.

During this past summer, Mendillo attended the Brown Environmental Leadership Lab (BELL) in Rhode Island for two weeks where she learned about leadership skills and discussed topics concerning the environment.

Mendillo found herself in a prestigious Ivy League university surrounded by rich, white people, an unlikely situation for a student from Southeast San Diego.

“Being in that environment by yourself, you’re poor, a minority, surrounded by people who are rich and the majority, it’s a wake-up call,” Mendillo said.

However, her experience was more than an academic one. Southeast San Diego is known for its diverse community and for its lower-income families. During Mendillo’s time at the program, these factors become more apparent to her.

“I learned that microaggression is real,” Mendillo explained. “I have experienced it before because of my gender, but it was the first time I felt it because I am a minority.”

Mendillo was one of two attendants who had to apply for a scholarship while the rest could pay the $4,196 fee. Many of the attendants came from high-income families where their parents held jobs as stockbrokers, doctors, or owners of hotels and hospitals.

“We had an activity where we stood in a circle and they would ask a question,” Mendillo said. “If the question applied to you then you walked in. They asked, ‘Did you have to get grant or a scholarship to go here?’ Three people stepped in and that was when I felt most alone.”

The difference in economic class was palpable. Brown’s environment significantly contrasts from Morse which is classified as Title I, a school with high numbers of students from low-income families.

“When they talked about things I couldn’t relate,’ Mendillo said. “They talked about how they’re going to London or how they’ve been there before.”

The time spent at Brown gave Mendillo insight on what an Ivy League school is like and how it is vastly different environment from San Diego.

“I wanted to take myself out of the diversity here and see what it’s like to really be a minority,” Mendillo said.

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