Ithaca College Quarterly, Summer 1998

A Sense of the World

 

Turning Point

As a child, Salleh spoke Spanish with her family, and although being bilingual was sometimes an asset for her, the rough neighborhood and lack of money were obstacles to be overcome. But "my mother instilled in us the belief that education is the way out of poverty," she says, noting that she has a sister who is now a doctor.

Recruited in 1967 by the College’s new Educational Opportunity Program (now called the Ithaca Opportunity Program), Salleh thinks she was "the very first EOP student to arrive on campus." The program provided her with tutoring as needed during the academic year, but perhaps more important, it connected her with the local Robert Hedges family, with whom she lived during the prefreshman summer courses. "I came from a family of six kids; they had seven, so we had that in common. And they loved me as one of their children. They visited us in New York City, and our whole families bonded." Over the years she has often returned to Ithaca to visit her onetime host family.

"Ithaca College was a turning point in my life," Salleh says. "My world was very small and predominantly working class. IC gave me a sense of what the world is like." At first that wider world seemed very strange. "I felt different economically, physically, culturally." Suddenly most of the people she dealt with every day, including her roommate, were "upper class." But friendship crossed that barrier; she kept the same roommate from the middle of freshman year to graduation.

"It could have been so different," Salleh reflects, thinking of the help she received from EOP, the Hedges family, her friends. But she knows she was far more than a passive recipient. "I had to prove myself and overcome differences to make myself equal." Although she was involved with activist groups on campus --- she attended a demonstration demanding more minority students and joined busloads of students in Washington, D.C., for the moratorium against the Vietnam War --- she says that "really I’m more accepting than militant. That open-mindedness helped me with the challenges IC presented." 

 

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