Looking at Kendall Manderville, ’20, now — President of the Black Student Union, Vice President of the campus NAACP chapter, a transfer student assistant in the New Student and Sophomore Programs office, and a Student Government Association Representative at Large — it’s hard to believe the recent graduate spent most of his first semester at Southern Connecticut State University in his room. As a new transfer student, though, Manderville said he struggled to find his place.
“I had been a big fish in a small pond,” he said. There were only 50 students in his magnet high school’s graduating class in Hartford. He had transferred to Southern from community college. “I only knew two people at Southern when I transferred in spring 2016, and it was the middle of the year. It was really hard.”
Manderville hung in there, hoping for a different experience in the fall. As fall rolled around, new opportunities helped coax him out of his room.
“Coming into the fall really changed my mind,” he said. “There were clubs outside, there were new freshmen who were in the same boat. I lived in a different dorm, so I met other students and other first generation students. We decided we would all figure it out together.”
Still, he said, he held back.
“I didn’t know about joining clubs,” he said. “I was so nervous. I was nervous just walking in front of people I didn’t know!”
When a friend urged him to check out the Black Student Union with her, everything changed.
“We went to the Black Student Union together, and I really liked it. Then I got more active. Then I became an active member. Then I started handling the public relations. I loved it that much.”
To Manderville, that first step in the door set the tone for the rest of his tenure because “once you get involved, you never really stop getting involved.” He became a transfer student assistant in the New Student and Sophomore Programs office to help fellow transfer students navigate the same terrain he had. And at the Black Student Union, he traded his PR hat for president, a position he never had envisioned himself in.
“I never saw myself doing that, but there were upperclassmen who saw the potential in me,” he said. “They were watching and they said, ‘We want to see you in this position.’ ”
That mentorship gave Manderville the confidence he needed to start thinking about the power of his own voice.
“You need a voice, regardless of what group or organization you’re in,” Manderville said. “Something changed in me. I got out of that ‘Let’s stop just talking about it with our friends’ to ‘Let’s do something about it.’ You have to get to that point. When you have that voice, you can rally and grow the voice. You’re coming together and doing it as a whole, and now our community is so much stronger.”
The Recreation and Leisure major (with a minor in wellness) has mixed feelings about leaving Southern, noting that graduation would be bittersweet. He planned on celebrating at home with his family, possibly having a party outside this summer. After working for a year he has his sights set on graduate school.
“I want to work in the field and get my feet wet,” Manderville said. “Our department is required to have two internships, so I really feel prepared with practical experience. It wasn’t just an education from books. That’s a real strength.”
Thinking back on one of his fondest memories of Southern, Manderville recalled random sunny days sitting on the front steps of Buley Library, just watching everyone walk by.
“On those nice days, everyone would be laughing and talking and taking photos. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we’re in college and this is fun.’ ”
For Manderville, it really was all outside his dorm room door.