This April marks New Jersey’s second celebration of Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Appreciation Month. After Gov. Phil Murphy signed Assembly Joint Resolution No. 204, it was deemed that April throughout New Jersey would be a time “to recognize the critical role that EOF plays in ensuring the meaningful access to higher education for economically and educationally disadvantaged students in the State.”
At Ramapo, the EOF program strives “to provide access to higher education and support for highly motivated students who exhibit the potential for success, but who come from families/communities disadvantaged by low income and a lack of access to quality educational preparation necessary to attend college,” as per its mission statement.
On Monday afternoon, President Cindy Jebb proclaimed April EOF Appreciation Month at Ramapo in a joint ceremony celebrating both EOF and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
EOF was recognized first. There were several speakers from the EOF staff, including Director Dr. Nicole Videla, Associate Director Dr. Deirdre B. Foreman, Student Development Specialist Natalie Quiñones and Office Coordinator Christine Millien.
“The EOF program has a vision to uplift and empower our scholars, to break the cycle of historical poverty by equipping them with tools to enhance their quality of life on campus, in your families and communities,” Videla said.
After working at Ramapo for 15 years, Videla shared that she has seen the program grow and “move forward all in a quest to see our scholars succeed in and out of the classroom.” Additionally, she said that for her and her fellow staff members, EOF is more than just a job. They are passionate about their students and helping them succeed.
One successful student is senior EOF scholar Alexis Jones, who was the student speaker at the ceremony. She shared her personal experience with the EOF program throughout her nearly completed college career.
“I have greatly benefited from the EOF program. Of course when I say this, the first thing that comes to mind is money. And yes, being able to go to college through the EOF scholarship is a privilege,” Jones said. “But EOF is more than dollar signs. It opens the door for students like me who are Black, from North [NJ], living in a single parent household and also low income and a soon to be first-gen college grad.”
After the EOF portion of the ceremony, Associate Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance Rachel Sawyer Walker welcomed Jebb back on stage to proceed with the proclamation of AAPI Heritage Month. After acknowledging how rich it is that the two proclamations could be combined, she shared a quote by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, the quote ending with the lines, “Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”
“So as we celebrate this month, let us think how we can problem solve together and nurture each other within our diverse communities here at Ramapo,” Jebb said.
Class of 2011 communication arts alum Eileen Ramos was the guest speaker on behalf of AAPI Heritage Month, and she spoke on the need for continuing to improve the diversity within the AAPI community on campus and in the world.
“In all honesty, I don’t think I should be the one right here on the mic right now. There have been too many instances where events, spaces, colleges claim they’re AAPI without including actual Pacific Islanders,” she said.
“Time and time again they are excluded from the creation of the program, not the organizers, were not asked to present or even to provide input. Institutions and nonprofits want to say AAPI to show how diverse, inclusive and progressive they are, without putting the actual work in to include the marginalized,” Ramos continued.
She believes that this month should be used to uplift the silenced voices in the AAPI community. Though she is a Filipino woman who has meaningful stories to share, in addition to the more commonly known East Asian population, she recognizes that there are other stories that need to be heard and uplifted, too.
“It is not too late to see and share your truth and to recognize the true value of learning other folks’ history and heritage, especially the extremely marginalized. Encourage each other to stand up and take the stage. Uplift them whenever you can, especially those who are forced to remain in the audience,” Ramos said.
Featured photo courtesy of social media team for communication and public relation