Alma Scott-Buczak ’74
associate vice president of Human Resources at Lafayette, former member of the Association of Black Collegians (ABC)
Jerri Norman ’21
B.S. Civil Engineering (2021), B.A. Chinese Language and Culture (in progress), member of ABC, Queer People of Color (QPOC), and Women’s Rugby team
I’m Jerri Norman. I’m a senior civil engineering major and a dual-degree candidate for Chinese language and culture, which will be attained in the fall of 2021. I am an RA on campus, and a co-captain of the women’s rugby team. I am a former president of the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at Lafayette. And I’m currently an honors thesis candidate as well, working on research on COVID-19 impact on essential workers through public transportation and public policy.
Hi, Jerri. I’m Alma Scott-Buczak. I’m currently the associate vice president of human resources for Lafayette College. I’m also an alum of the College. I graduated with the Class of 1974. So that was the first full class of women that graduated from the College, I have served as a volunteer for a number of years. I was an alumni admissions representative. I was on the board of trustees for several years. And it was from the board of trustees that I was recruited into a new position to head up their human resources function. I’ve worked in human resources for over 40 years in a number of different industries, including transportation, so we have something in common there.
So I’d love to hear what brought you to Lafayette—why did you come here?
JN: I was looking for something small with a community feeling. I was initially interested in the dual degree program for engineering and International Affairs, because it combined two of my interests of being able to either travel or learn about different countries on an international level, and work as an engineer in that way. However, I ended up not doing that with the hope to further my Chinese language skills that I had started in high school. But regardless of that, I really enjoyed the sense of community I felt, and I didn’t feel like I was going to drown in a sea of too many students. So that was definitely an indicator or a way in which I’ve thought I would have a good place here.
ASB: Did you get to do any international study or travels?
JN: I did, even though engineering is typically very rigorous. Because I wanted to initially minor in Chinese language, and there were no semester programs in China. But through Lafayette, I was able to get into an interim program in 2019 in South China with two professors at Lafayette, and I had a really, really fun time.
ASB: So I’ll tell you why I came to Lafayette—I’d love for it to be all these intelligent reasons why I chose the College. But when I graduated from high school it was 1970, it was the beginning of the push around civil rights and around affirmative action and Title IX. So a number of the colleges were feeling pressure to look for students of color. And literally, they would send buses down to my high school and take us to visit their college. And a lot of us would go on these bus trips, because it was a really cool thing to do on Saturday. And one of the bus trips I went on was to Lafayette. I got to the campus, and I fell in love with the campus. I thought it was the most beautiful place on Earth. And so my coming here had nothing to do with being in the first class of women. Nothing to do with what they offered academically. It was, ‘I like the way it looks!’
JN: When you got to campus, and you were integrated into campus life, how was that for you being a part of the first class of women?
ASB: It’s interesting. It was also a year in which they had a large population of African American students. I was used to being in a situation where I was one of the few women or one of the few black students. So none of that was strange to me. I loved academics. I was an economics major, because remember I said I didn’t come here because I looked at anything about the school. I realized I didn’t have a business major, some majored in economics. So as an economics major, I was an RA. You mentioned you were an RA. I was in the McKelvey Scholars Program. I spent a lot of time with the Association of Black Collegians (ABC)—just hanging out at the black house, which is now called the Portlock Black Cultural Center. I would also spend a lot of time just being involved with friends and talking to professors and doing research. And so I had a really wonderful experience here.
I remember two things about being in the first class of women: very important things. Number one, they had bathtubs in Ruef Hall, when no one could figure out why because there was no way any of us were using those bathtubs. After about a year, they realized that was not a smart idea. And they covered them with wood. So you had this wooden thing in the bathrooms. And the other thing was the first couple weeks I was here, most of our classes because I was in liberal arts, most of them were in Pardee Hall. And when I would go to Pardee, the doors were so heavy, and I was like a 90-pound weakling. I literally couldn’t open the doors for the first two weeks. So I would have to get there to get into the building really early and hope that someone came along who was big enough to open the doors for me so I can get to class. I think after a couple weeks facilities figured that out because I went one day and I could actually open the door, and I know it wasn’t because I had developed muscles. But those are my two biggest memories about being in the first class of women.
JN: When I got to campus for the first time, I knew that I was at a predominantly white institution. I’ve gone to predominantly white institutions since first grade. However, when I came from high school, I had a very tight knit group of black and non black people of color. And when I got here, I didn’t know where any of those people were. And being in the engineering division, I was a little isolated. And I found myself having a hard time being able to connect with people of color, just due to the demographics in the engineering division. However, I also became a part of ABC. During the first weekend or second weekend I was on campus, they had a cookout that I went to. And that’s where I was able to sort of meet more people who looked like me and find a sense of community outside of my dorm floor or my engineering classes. And I felt a little bit more comfortable on campus. Not that I didn’t feel comfortable on campus when I first came, but that sort of yearning for finding people who sort of looked like me and sort of understood what the different things that I would be going through coming to college, it was something that I cherished.
ASB: Where did you go to high school?
JN: So funny story. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and after going to middle school there, I applied to boarding school. I ended up in Wallingford, Connecticut, a very small town in Connecticut at Choate Rosemary Hall, which, coincidentally was also originally an all boys school and became coeducational. That was my first experience away from home for high school for school of any sort. I went to summer camp there, and that’s when, without telling my mom, I said, I’m applying to boarding school. I had a lot of fun over the summer. So I want to keep doing this. And that was a really, really rewarding experience. I think that’s definitely when I came into myself. And it ultimately got me here.
ASB: It’s funny when you talk about your mom, and you sort of told her after the fact you applied to boarding school. So when I came back from Lafayette, I told my mom, ‘I love this place, I’m gonna go there for school.’ And my mom looked at me like, ‘Oh, yeah, honey. Sure you are.’ You know, because my parents had never gone to College. I’m first generation. Their idea of being able to send me to college was maybe I’d be able to go to community college in Philadelphia. So this concept that someone would give me a scholarship to go someplace like Lafayette was sort of foreign to my family, my community, everything. So it really was a very life changing experience to come here. And I’ve really tried to sort of push that through the rest of the generations of my neighborhood and my family and you know that you could do anything if I could do this.
JN: Right. My mom didn’t finish college. So I’ll be the first to also finish. So it’s very interesting now that I’m getting this close. And I have my cap and gown. It’s just the little euphoria of like, oh, wow, like this is actually happening.
ASB: So what was it like going through COVID-19 and all of the changes that affected your college experience, what was that like?
JN: It was so scary. I think being on campus and hearing about neighboring schools and friends that I went to high school with their colleges saying we’re ending this semester or we’re sending everyone home. The anticipation of what Lafayette was going to do… and then I was very sad because all of my senior friends, I wasn’t going to be able to see them walk across the stage. And a lot of my friends, this was the first time in their families that someone was graduating from college. So I was sort of feeling what they were feeling like not really getting that experience. And switching to online classes. Surprisingly, I kind of liked taking classes online, it was sort of a break from the norm. I enjoyed going to classes with people, I enjoyed interacting, but I was also so nervous, I didn’t want to be forced to go to class. So I enjoyed it, as well. But being back on campus, in the fall, when everything was remote, I was on campus with maybe 600-700 people on campus. And that was very weird. It was a ghost town. You didn’t see people on the Quad just having fun, playing games, or sitting with their friends having picnics. It was very weird, especially since it was the start of my senior year. And in the back of my mind, I was thinking this probably isn’t going to get any better. So maybe I also won’t have a graduation. Or maybe I won’t get to see all of my friends. When we came back to campus, only a few of my friends were able to study on campus. And one of my friends in particular was abroad during the semester that we all got sent home. So I hadn’t seen her in a year. And she’s back on campus now. But it was just like, when am I going to be able to see everyone again? And also a sense of, ‘Is everything going to get back to normal?’ Or, ‘Do I even want everything to go back to normal?’
ASB: So you were telling me a little about some research that you’re doing. Tell me a little more about that.
JN: So over the summer, I was looking for more connections with Lafayette alumni of color in the transportation field, or even just civil engineering. My interest is transportation. And I was looking at how a lot of essential workers had been affected by the stay at home orders. And my mom is actually a flight attendant. So she was still working, but also not working, it was a mixture of things. So looking at the different ways people were being affected, hearing about her friends, some of them being laid off or furloughed. And even some of my friends had to work during the pandemic in order to support their families. When I was connected with Dr. London, who’s an alum in the class of 2010, I believe, he was working on starting research on COVID-19 and how it has affected environmental justice areas around the United States. And from that I sort of created my own realm of research, in which I combined my interest in public transportation and also looking at public policy. And how essential workers essentially had been affected during the prime time of I would call it from March to June of 2020, when everything was sort of at the highest level.
ASB: Right. Interesting. One of the things that I noticed about Lafayette, so often, you know, people will say, well, how’s the school changed? And you know, there are a lot of buildings, I know where they are, that’s my big change. So when all the folks come back to the campus, then someone says, you know, go to Oechsle Hall when we were here, it was a gym. So we don’t know what that means. But the other thing is the availability of different learning experiences like doing the type of research you’re doing or going overseas or something like the Dyer Center or the Hanson Center, none of that existed when I was here, and I’m not saying we didn’t get an excellent education and exposure. But there’s so much more available for the students now, which I’m totally happy about. The other thing was, of course, when I was here, Lafayette, its social life was very fraternity based, so there were maybe 20 or plus fraternities. We didn’t have sororities, so that’s an improvement.
JN: You mentioned ABC. Right now, I’m working with ABC on an archives project. And I’ll be here over the summer actually doing more archival work. I wanted to know how ABC shaped your time here.
ASB: ABC was very important to the black students when we were here. For many of the students that came with me, they were first generation students. Many of them had not been in environments where they were as rare as they were at Lafayette. So we sort of gravitated to ABC as a way of a place of familiarity, a way to sort of let your hair down and not feel like you were so much on display, as you might in other spaces on the campus. And it was everything from just hanging out and playing cards together, to studying together. So we really were each other’s support system and would study together and we would have parties on Saturday night because the social life was in these fraternities, and there were no black fraternities, you were in a space where you were still a minority. Well, if we had a party together, then we weren’t a minority, and we could play our music and hang out.
But we also had a real passion about having an impact on the school, trying to leave it more welcoming for the students that would come behind us. So advocating with the administration to make those types of changes. We advocated for more black faculty, for more black studies and programs, and administrators. I say black because most of the students of color were black. At that point, we weren’t as diverse in terms of that population, as we are now. But we also did community service work. So one of my favorite programs was a program called Black Children Can. And every Saturday, we would bring kids up from the Easton community, and just bring them into a college environment and let them know that they would be welcome in this space and we do educational programs, we take them on trips, we would do an enrichment program for them. And that was probably one of my fondest memories about being part of the ABC.
One of the things that I think we also tended to do, which was not as positive, was that we were almost adamant that you had to be part of the ABC. And in some ways, we were not really supportive of the students who wanted to bridge out and get involved in other spaces and other opportunities at the campus. I was one of the people that constantly said, ‘We can be with you but we can do other things, and it doesn’t make us less black.’ So there was also that going on. Now there’s even additional organizations like NIA, which didn’t exist and international students associations, none of those things existed. So that is a difference.
How has your experience been in terms of being in these different spaces?
JN: I made it a point to get involved in a lot of different extracurricular activities. During my freshman year, I was part of the precision step team for a semester or two. I joined the rugby team in my sophomore year. And ABC I was a part of, for the entirety. I’ve been a part of Q Pack, which is the queer people of color organization on campus. I’ve attended many of their events. And being a part of organizations like that allowed me to meet more people. As well as learn a bit more outside of just math, science, and problem solving. Pre-COVID, ABC had so many activities, whether it was going to a skating rink, having dances on weekends, or parties on the weekends. That was sort of a time for me to relax, not think about academics. And I participated in the rugby team. This is my first time I’m doing something outside of the box, but also still being active. And I’ve met a wonderful group of girls. And that was sort of a way I was able to build community and enjoy my time here. Through all the hardships, through all of the different things that happened in the United States and internationally. Over the past four years, a lot of the student organizations, I would say, especially ABC and Q Pack and rugby, have been my source of support while being on campus, for sure.
ASB: How have you navigated the social changes that have happened in the past? And how has that impacted you?
JN: It’s been hard, I would say, having to connect over screen. It’s been tiring, because when we’re doing classes online, and then also wanting to have social time online, and when that’s the only way you can really interact with people, it becomes tiring, even though that’s something that you want to do, you still want to connect with each other. So you come up with very unique ways to interact with people. I remember in the fall at one point we brought blankets onto the Quad to be socially distanced. A few of my friends who were not on campus, we had a paint and sip online or there’s also a Taboo/Pictionary game that we played virtually. But I don’t think it ever really replaced being able to go up to your friend and give your friend a hug when they’re going through something. Facetiming your friends is one thing but being able to just cry with your friends or watch a movie with friends has definitely been weird. Something to get used to, I think, but it also definitely allowed me to sit with myself and learn more about myself.
ASB: So you’re probably familiar with the McDonogh Network. It’s an organization of black alumni. And it’s really easy to be a member, if you’re black and you went to Lafayette, you’re in. One of the things that we wrestle with as black alumni is how we can be supportive of the students who are on campus. And it’s something we all want to do. And we have no idea what students need. So when you look at me as a black alumni, what advice would you give me about how to support current students?
JN: I would love having more McDonogh programming throughout the semester, I think my freshman year, the only time or I think two times I had the opportunity to figure out what the Network was at Homecoming, I believe, and the awards ceremony that’s typically held in the spring. And that was my first time meeting black alums on campus. I think I would love it if the McDonogh Network worked more with the engineering division. That’s actually something that I spoke about to my advisor. Because every time we have alumni returning back to have talks, to help out with externships and internships, I felt that there were not a lot of black alumni, if any, that have returned back to campus to speak about what life has been like. And how can I get my foot in the door really. And so I would love more connection with the engineering division, I think, mostly just because engineering itself is not very diverse. I would love to see more of that. I’d also love to see more programming with student groups on campus. I think just being able to have a bond with different alums throughout your time at Lafayette and it doesn’t have to even be about business or networking, or connecting with people for work. Just being able to know that people have been here before you and that they’re here to support you, even if they’re not going through Lafayette right now with you. They know what you’re going through a bit and that they’re an email or a call or a text away.
ASB: I’ll pass that on. Thank you.
JN: With me about to leave, it feels almost like bittersweet, almost nostalgic. There are things that I wish that I had gotten more involved with. One of them being the McDonogh Network. And also learning that through all of the connections that I’ve made over the years, I wish I had stayed more in touch with some of the alumni that have gone on to do other things, especially my freshman and sophomore year.
ASB: So what are you looking forward to? What’s next?
JN: I am graduating this spring with a bachelors of science in civil engineering. But I’ll be coming back in the fall for the Chinese language and culture Bachelor of Arts. And after that, I want to continue school, maybe graduate studies in city and regional planning, specifically transportation planning, and possibly looking into public housing as well. I think this year has been the year that I’ve been able to take more courses, sort of in the realm of planning, whether that’s through a class I’m doing called Sustainable Solutions, in looking at the West Ward revitalization project that’s happening in Easton. And I think that’s sort of cemented my passion for wanting to pursue graduate studies. With the research I’m also doing, I think, if the opportunity arises, I’d love to continue some type of research opportunity into my graduate studies. But for now, I’m hoping to finish strong, and I also do want to study abroad again in China. I’ve gone twice, and both have been very life-changing experiences, as well. So that’s something I’m definitely looking forward to doing in the future.
ASB: It was an absolute pleasure meeting you and getting to know you a little bit. And now that I know you’re going to be on campus, I’ll be stalking you, I expect you to come visit me and talk to me and call me. I’ll make sure you have all my numbers. And I’ll try and hook you up with all my transportation friends.
JN: And thank you so much for having this conversation with me. I’ve learned a lot. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know you as well. And I hope to continue to stay connected through my continued time on campus.