Finding the BIPOC Butler experience

A mark of entrance into Butler’s campus and community. The start of the Butler experience. Photo courtesy of Inside Indiana Business.


Transitioning into college consists of many variables that can be overwhelming for both parties involved: the incoming first year and of course the nail-biting, overly anxious parent who is in active survival mode throughout orientation week. In a way, this transition is a metaphor for what life will continuously be like from here on out: a series of adjustments. 

While this phenomenon has been experienced by millions before, it can easily be said that no two stories are exactly alike. This is especially true as Butler’s population of students of color continues to grow, causing race and ethnicity to play a bigger role in students’ ability to feel a sense of belonging within Butler as a predominantly white institution. Time after time, these students have had to forge their own path to make sense of the environment that is to become their home away from home, both literally and metaphorically. 

For some students of color, the college experience revolves around the idea of practicality, encouraged by their community to take the route of greatest financial support and convenience.

One way a student has found this practical support within the Butler community has been through the improved commuter student center and the Butler food pantry

Belen Sepulveda, a sophomore art + design and computer science double major of Hispanic heritage, is currently a commuter. She works two jobs and finds herself frequenting the commuter lounge as an oasis for studying or relaxation. As a commuter, Sepulveda does not see a need for the extra cost of a meal plan and instead relies on the Butler food pantry for a few snacks throughout the day. While at times Sepulveda struggles to find a balance between work, school and home life, she is grateful for the resources Butler has readily available. 

“The Butler pantry is so helpful for my parents and me if I ever get hungry,” Sepulveda said. “If I ever wanted a box of ramen, I would go there. Same thing with the commuter center, they bring food there which I appreciate.” 

Although Sepulveda currently works two jobs, she works more for the experience than the compensation. Her scholarship is the very reason she chose to commit to Butler. 

“Because of the [scholarship Butler] gave me, I don’t have to ask my parents for money,” Sepulveda said. “They wouldn’t even have money to give me.” 

While some students chose Butler for its practicality and financial viability, others also loved the sense of community and familiarity it offered them. 

Sara Cains, Chinese American first-year psychology major, is a commuter and avid fan of the Efroymson Diversity Center, a place used not only as an in-between class rest stop but also as a hub for supporting students and fostering diversity at Butler. 

Cains’ aunt is a Butler alumni, so she feels a familial connection to Butler, but that does not take away from the role the Diversity Center has played in her transition to college. 

“I never [have been] denied something because of how I looked because I know I’m white-passing, so I own that,” Cains said. “I guess I’d say [my experience with the Diversity Center has] not really [been] about how I look and how other people treat me. It’s nice to know I have a community where people share my same values.”   

Cains, like many others, feels a sense of belonging at Butler because of the welcoming environment fostered in the Diversity Center and its ability to nurture the varied identities coexisting in its space. 

Ultimately, the decision to commit was the result of Cain’s deliberate consideration of the resources Butler offered her not only as a commuter or person of marginalized origins but as someone who is ready to have real discussions within her campus community. 

In many cultures, family endorsement is a huge factor in one’s decision-making process. However, during the endeavor of selecting a college, the importance of objectivity placed upon students can outweigh all else. 

Ricky Vo, a sophomore pre-pharmacy major of Vietnamese heritage, is a residential assistant originally from Colorado who made sure to study his collegiate options from an objective point of view, regardless of his parent’s skepticism. 

“They supported my decision, but they’re Asian parents,” Vo said. “They don’t want me to leave the house, so that part of the culture [has been an adjustment for them].” 

When applying to colleges, Butler was ranked at the top of Vo’s list due to its strong pharmacy program and its advantageous six-year program length compared to the usual eight years. Regardless of their doubts, Vo’s parents agreed that Butler was the best choice for their son. 

Still, Vo’s commitment to Butler and Indianapolis extends far beyond just academics. During his first semester at Butler, Vo worked at the front desk of the Esports Park and held the position up until his second semester when he was offered an internship at Ourobio in downtown Indianapolis.  

“After committing to Butler and learning more about it, I definitely did learn more about aspects other than academics,” Vo said. “[It] was basically my experience and going out and looking on the internet, [and] looking at social media, to get an idea of what Butler is past the academics.” 

Currently, Vo serves as vice president of community engagement for Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance and as treasurer for Students of Color Allied in Healthcare, both student organizations under the Diversity Center. He also plays an active role at the Esports Park as the manager for the Valorant team. Vo is passionate in his belief that while Butler is a pillar of opportunity, in the end, it can only be what one makes of it. 

While Vo has developed plenty of experience with the greater Indianapolis and Butler community, his experience at Butler has also led to more personal development. 

“As a person of color in a predominantly white university, obviously people of different races and people of different identities have different opinions, but I think coming in with an open mind and wanting the freedom that college gives, I enjoyed it,” Vo said. “[It’s allowed me to learn] more about myself, learn more about the community here, learn more about what I like and what I don’t like, learn about myself, my values, my morals, that kind of thing.” 

College can certainly be a difficult transition for anyone, and for this reason, it is imperative to take into consideration the kind of support that is valued within Butler’s community. These accounts are simply a sample of the different experiences one can find on campus. While everyone’s collegiate path is different, it is important to trust the process of finding one’s footing through trial and error. 

Exploring college and finding a sense of community takes individual initiative. However, at Butler, support from peers is something that never falls short.


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