It Starts in the Schools: How Participating in the HHSI Defined My College Career

By Angelica Beneke

Earlier this semester, I described what I was doing every Tuesday and Thursday to the Catholic campus minister and a fellow senior. I said I go over to tutor students at Hempstead High School and have done so ever since the program was launched my sophomore year in 2015. I’m always excited to talk about the initiative with other people and every chance I get, I talk about it. I don’t do this to show off or be superior in any way. I genuinely love this program and I think it’s awesome an opportunity like this exists through Hofstra.

Interestingly enough, the fellow senior gave me the strangest look as if I told her I secretly had two heads. She then repeated “Hempstead High School?” and went on to explain how it used to be such a great school when her grandfather went there years ago, “but now it’s . . .” She said more, but I tuned her out in that moment out of reflex. Her “that’s too bad” tone and her interjection had said it all to me. Why willingly go volunteer at one of the worst schools in in the area where there are better volunteer opportunities? She didn’t intend any ill will, I’m sure.  But, as someone who has been super involved with the high school and the Hempstead High School Initiative since its inception, I was bothered by that comment then and, as I type this, I’m still bothered by it now.

Yes, Hempstead High School has an alarmingly low graduation rate compared to schools such as Garden City High School. Yes, Hempstead High School, much like Hempstead itself, has a certain reputation associated with its minority student population. Yes, I could have decided to look for other and “safer” volunteer opportunities instead of tutoring at Hempstead High School and being exposed to metal detectors not unlike those at an airport.

But, I didn’t. And I don’t regret being adamant about volunteering consistently at this school.

It’s often said that consistently volunteering changes you. I did volunteer quite a bit during my time as a student in an all girls’ Catholic high school back in Houston, Texas and those experiences, especially volunteering at elementary and middle schools, did change me for the better and made me more aware of the reality of America through the eyes of education.

Volunteering at a high school as a college student has not only reaffirmed that, but it has also opened my eyes to how those society deem as lazy, unintelligent, and uncaring because they can’t pass some state tests are actually some of the brightest, most motivated, and most hard-working individuals who only need someone to give them a chance, not drown them with more tests when they don’t meet ridiculous test standards.

I know there are more tutors than just me who are in this program, but I feel that if I wasn’t a tutor at Hempstead High School, who else would be giving these kids a chance? I may not always know the answers to the problems they have to work on, but, to them, I represent the fact that college is an option, that someone cares that they get a wholesome education, and that someone believes in their potential not just as a student, but as a person.

This worldview is something that motivates me not just to volunteer outside the program but to do my best in everything I do – classes, extracurriculars, friendships – and just give people the chances that they need.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ve had all positive and perfect experiences while volunteering at this school. I have struggled with trying to motivate these kids to do their homework or work on practice problems for the Regents when all they would rather do is talk among themselves about their plans for the week. In fact, I have only recently figured out ways to keep them on track whenever this happens. Plus, English isn’t exactly the most popular subject that people want to work on, especially in high school. As a result, sometimes, I’ll be awkwardly sitting at a table by myself while other students needing assistance in other subjects are being helped.

But, when these moments arise, I’m reminded I’m not alone in this initiative, thanks to the spectacular Ms. Darien, a science teacher at the school who is Hofstra’s liaison with the high school. I’m not exaggerating when I say she’s one of the reasons (after really wanting to help these students, of course) I kept coming back to this program. I could tell from day one that she genuinely cares about the high school students and the tutors and their success not only in this program, but life in general. I can’t even begin to say how many times she’s had my back throughout my time as a HHSI tutor.

Yes, I volunteer at Hempstead High School. Yes, I absolutely love it and am sad that next semester will be my last semester with the program. But, I have no doubt the program will grow exponentially after I graduate Hofstra and Hempstead High School will no longer be seen as the school for the delinquents, but a school full of smart, talented, hardworking, and witty students.


Top 3 Reasons I Should Not Have Attended a PWI: A Black Girl’s Experience at Hofstra U

1.) We may as well get it out of the way now….The Food
It’s amazing to me how there can be so many different places on campus to get food and yet I still find myself going hungry most of the time. The only things I find that I can eat consistently are the salmon, the sushi, and the boxes of frozen Buffalo wings that are sold at Dutch. Occasionally, I’ll have the shrimp or fried rice from the Asian cuisine place. As you can imagine, it gets tiring to eat the same foods all the time. Especially considering I’ve been here for four years. Why am I so limited in what I eat, you ask? If I’m being honest, my experience has been a torturous lack of flavor/taste in the foods offered at this school.
Being Nigerian on top of all that, things are even harder because Africans are so horribly underrepresented in terms of the food on campus. I’m definitely not (I repeat, NOT) asking for them to attempt to make jollof rice or anything like that, but surely they should at least be able to offer plantains every week (if not every day) instead of once every blue moon. I can’t help but feel like if I’d gone to an HBCU, there’d at least be more plugs (connections) to food that I would actually enjoy if not from the school itself then from the students.

2.) My Teachers Hardly Ever Look Like Me. And Neither Do My Classmates For That Matter.
One of the biggest gags/jokes/scams about this school is how much administration LOVES to push the narrative that the school is soooo diverse and yet…WHERE?? As was mentioned before, I’ve been attending this school for four years now. I can count how many black professors I’ve had in that time. Four…I am a senior and I’ve only seen four professors that looked like me. Four. On top of that, out of those four professors, only one of them is within my department (English). There is only ONE black professor in the entire English department. The only reason I even had the other three black professors was because I took all the African Studies courses that I could (The African Novel, African Dance, and The Revolution Will Not be Televised). The fact of the matter is, I shouldn’t have to take courses specifically geared towards the African/Black experience in order to feel represented among the faculty. I know we’re no longer considered children but representation still matters.
On the other side of that, is my peers. At the beginning of every semester, I walk into a class for the first time wondering if I will yet again be the only black student there. The answer is usually: yes. I’ve asked myself if it’s because of the classes I take (mainly literature, creative writing, and philosophy) but I’ve found that even in my general education classes, there’s usually less than 5 of us. My friends in other majors have also reported having the experience of being the only black student in most of their classes.

3.) Campus Culture in General
I want to start this off by saying that the black clubs here (ASA, NAACP, BSU, CSA, and CWC) really put on some great events. As president of the ASA, I can personally attest to how difficult it is to not only put on an event but to actually get a strong turnout as well, no matter how much advertising that is done. I know HBCUs are not perfect and not every black student who attends one will go to every black event held but I’ve seen the crowds they have at their ASA/BSU/NAACP/etc. events. It’s embarrassing to invite speakers here and only have 10-15 people in the audience. I’ve gone to other schools and witnessed how involved their black students are and can’t help but wish I could relate.
Aside from the clubs aspect, there’s also Greek life. The fact of the matter is, there’s hardly a D9 (Divine Nine) presence here. Out of the five fraternities that are considered D9 (Kappas, Alphas, Iotas, Ques, and Sigmas), we currently only have one still active on campus (Alphas). The sororities are a little better in that, out of the four D9 sororities (AKAs, Deltas, Zetas, and Sigma Gamma Rho), there are two (AKAs and SGRho) currently active on campus. At least as far as I know. Even within the chapters that are here, their numbers are small compared to the number of people in other chapters (which of course is not their fault).
It’s all just frustrating because I’ve seen the potential that all these (very important and necessary) orgs can have at other schools, especially HBCUs, and we just don’t have those numbers here.

Through the Eyes of a CCE Fellow: Partnership Strides

Since I became a fellow with the Center for Civic Engagement, I have been amazed at what I have been able to do as part of the team, and as an assistant to a community partner. For the past two and a half months, I have been working alongside GUAAC (Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition) whose mission statement reads: aspires to inspire neighbors to unite to build a better greater Uniondale community.

My job as a fellow is to assist GUAAC in reaching their goals as an organization that looks to better the Uniondale community. Since I started working with GUAAC, I have learned that getting a job done is not always easy. Sometimes, in fact many times, there can be hurdles in the way. The important thing to do is to recognize those hurdles and move forward. So far, we have been making progress. We are working towards empowering Uniondale residents in an effort to better the community overall.

Once a week, I meet with GUAAC to discuss strategies, plan agendas, and find ways in which we can unite to be a voice for the Uniondale community. In working with GUAAC, I am able to showcase various skills that are useful for any career. Knowing how to brainstorm, execute, and facilitate are all skills that are needed once you reach the workplace.

The best part of becoming a fellow with Hofstra University’s Center for Civic Engagement is the idea that I am playing my part to create REAL change on campus and in the neighboring areas.

Code Pink Conference

A few weeks ago, Emily Rubino and Kate Alexander- the two point people for Peace Action New York State- took me and another Hofstra student, Adam, to the “Divest from the War Machine Summit” hosted by Code Pink in Washington D.C. I have always been against war and in my freshman year of college I became involved with the Peace Action chapter at my school. I now hold the position of treasurer for this club.

When the president of the club, Emilie Beck, asked me to go to this summit I immediately said yes. Everything that Emilie has told me to see, go to or join has exceeded my expectations, which are usually pretty high. The summit consisted of a 9am-5pm session on Saturday and a shorter session on Sunday morning. Honestly, I am still digesting everything I learned from that weekend. The urgency and passion in every speakers voice was impossible to ignore. The hurt and suffering pulled my heart from my chest hearing from Gina Best who had lost her daughter to the militarized police force in the United States despite the fact that her daughter had served over seas. This grandmother now has a hearing impaired grandchild due to the bombs thrown at the car of an innocent patriotic and veteran American family.

Hearing from experts in all fields share their loses and wins while working to divest from war I gained a lifetime of inspiration. People like Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans will forever represent to me the activist that I seek to be.

I was exposed to Jarrett Smith, an example of a mayor from a city just outside of our nations capital who has committed to making Takoma Park a Nuclear Free Zone. He was so well spoken and a true representation of what a politician so devoted to peace looks like.

We heard from a man named Larry Wilkerson, a republican who was part of the system and now actively protests the unprecedented greed and violence that war today represents. It moved me to see that the humanity is still there.

You can’t help but wonder how many others who are a part of endless war wish that they could speak out. These inspirational speakers have changed my activism career and my outlook on life forever. They reminded us that we should learn from other movements and to remember to include everyone when creating the world without war.
There is an unbelievable amount of money spent on pointless wars. What changed for me at this Code Pink conference was the ability for you and I to divest our money and to encourage banks, universities, and mayors to divest. Remember that once these billions of dollars are divested, the money must be used.

I want to share with you all something that kept coming up while I was in D.C. and that was to change the vocabulary we use. Using the word military rather than defense; focus rather than target. Call it what it is. A man named Vijay Prashad coined the term and I am obsessed with Capitalist planetary Destruction rather than climate change. They asked us to please remember that this movement is not a new movement, which many have been working long and hard for change. These people are movement ancestors.
Right now the fabric that we live on is making a killing on killing and the summit that I attended told me what to do about it. The organization Code Pink has inspired me tremendously. They asked me, and I will ask you, to divest from war. You can go to and pledge. And my hope is that you will and that you will convince others to as well.

Child Smuggling and Immigration

The Trump Administration’s latest crackdown on illegal immigration is targeting parents who pay to have their children smuggled into the country. To do so, officials are targeting those who have been deported once and re-entered the US illegally, and then paid to have their children brought to the border, because illegal re-enter is faster and easier to prove than child smuggling charges.

The ICE defines human smuggling as, “Importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the United States.” This differs from human trafficking in that smugglers are paid to transport people from one place to another, and traffickers often kidnap or buy humans in order to exploit them for their own financial gain.
Human smuggling comes with its own risks, however. According to a recent article in the New York Times, many children have reported being raped or held for ransom by their smugglers, and of those held many are beaten or even murdered when family members aren’t able to pay the demanded price. Some children are abandoned as they’re making their way across the border.

Illegal immigration has spiked since the summer of 2014 due to increased gang violence and poverty in many Latin American countries. Many immigrants are fleeing extreme violence, and with the crackdown on immigration making it even harder to enter the US legally than ever before, many see smuggling as the only way to get their children to safety. Chris Rickerd, policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said “It’s extremely cruel when you started shutting down refugee applicants and rescinding protections for children brought to the country at a young age, to send this kind of message to parents trying to get their kids to safety.”


Link to article:

Phyllis Bennis: Building Communities of Peace and the Role of Civil Society

Peace is something that has to be fought for, not on the battlefield, but in peoples’ hearts and minds. That was Phyllis Bennis’ main point when she came to Hofstra to give her talk on the role of civil society in fostering peace.

According to Bennis, a writer, activist, and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, the United States’ military budget will be $568 billion this year, and Nassau County will spend $5 million in taxes to pay for the Pentagon alone, which doesn’t include care for veterans, soldier salaries, or weapons. Bennis pointed out that the money we’re spending on our military could be spent on so many other things that would be far more beneficial to American citizens, such as education and healthcare.

If we want to see any significant change in our society, we have to start locally. Bennis says civil society must start by figuring out how to change the mindset of the powerful, so instead of focusing on military options to foreign issues, the leaders of our nation will turn to diplomacy and peaceful alternatives. This would trickle down to the media’s rhetoric, then to schools and the rest of the nation. That way we as a country can learn to reject the idea that war is our first and best option.

According to Bennis, civil society must define what it thinks foreign policy should look like in a concrete way. If we want peace, our foreign policy has to reflect that by supporting international law and accountability, human rights, and equality for all. This includes recognizing that terrorism can’t be stopped with violence, as more death and destruction will only create more terrorists. Bennis suggests that the best way to fight terrorism is to fight the mindset and circumstances that lead people to seeing terrorism and terrorist groups as their last options.

Bennis takes an idea from historian Howard Zinn that the United States is two countries at once; the one whose power and history is rooted in genocide and slavery, and the one whose people fought against genocide and slavery. But there have always been people who fought against violence in hatred. Now the rest of the world turns to us. We, as members of civil society, have a responsibility to build the movements that will lead to peace.

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to a new year filled with many civic engagement initiatives.

The Center for Civic Engagement is working in multiple capacities to forge connections between the university and local, national, and global communities, and to bring opportunities for civic literacy to the campus and local community.

Center for Civic Engagement staff and fellows are currently gearing up for our annual Day of Dialogue on October 26, a daylong event of concurrent presentations, conversations, and film screenings and discussions. This year’s theme is F*** News! Deliberations on Truth, Citizenship, and Democracy, and will feature a number of sessions that explore public discourse around a fundamental democratic institution. Panels and sessions will examine public demand to take down historic statues (“Statues Must be Taken Down, Places Renamed”), the impact of digital literacy on truth in the news (“Fake News, Digital Literacies”) and subjective takes on science (“Your Science, My Science, and to Hell With Our Science”).

Next week, CCE launches the Hempstead High School Initiative along with the Hofstra University Honors College, bringing Hofstra university tutors to Hempstead High School four times per week for a total of eight hours of weekly tutoring in math, science, English, and history. The Initiative has grown since its inception in Spring 2016 and now enrolls more than 45 tutors. In addition, the Initiative is working with the New York State Mentoring Program to connect more than 20 volunteers with mentees in the Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead. All told, close to 70 volunteers are working hundreds of hours in Hempstead School District each week in an attempt to move the needle on graduation rates.

Center for Civic Engagement fellows, interns, and volunteers are working with additional community partners including Herstory Writers Workshop, a nonprofit that offers memoir writing workshops in Long Island communities, schools, and jails; the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition, a grassroots community group that addresses issues facing the Uniondale community; and Homecoming Farms, an organic farm run by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville.

Our school year has gotten off to a challenging start with the passing of our leader, Dr. Greg Maney, professor of sociology and CCE Director of Active Citizenship and Community Partnerships. Dr. Maney has led the Center for Civic Engagement for many years, broadening its focus to initiatives off campus and in the local community.

Most notably, Dr. Maney led the anti-bullying effort, I Support Roosevelt  Youth initiative, and worked with the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition to win the battle against the East Garden City initiative, which sought to divide the hamlet of Uniondale. Dr. Maney launched the Hempstead High School Initiative that brings Hofstra University students into the high school for tutoring four times per week with an effort to move the needle on graduation rates, currently at 38%.

Dr. Maney’s legacy stretches long and the gap he leaves in university and community life is large. We hope all who are inspired by his work and his memory will reach out to CCE to continue the noble objectives that he so diligently pursued.

Dr. Yvonne Teems
Acting Director for Active Citizenship and Community Partnerships
Center for Civic Engagement