Ánimo Jackie Robinson Alum Reflects on Freshman Year at HBCU

Shi'Ann Castle

After graduating from Ánimo Jackie Robinson in 2021, Los Angeles native Shi’Ann Castle embarked on a journey to become the first person in her family to graduate from college. One semester later, Castle took a moment to reflect on her on-campus experience as a freshman at Stillman College, an HBCU (historically black college or university) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

Q: What was it like to leave for college during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

A: I wouldn't say it was scary, but it is pretty far from home and rough being away from family. But now, coming to an HBCU, it wasn’t as scary as I thought because at an HBCU, we're all practically the same. It feels like the school is a big family to me. And Ánimo Jackie Robinson is really big on family too, so it was actually pretty soothing. It wasn't as scary as I thought.

What is your class schedule looking like now that you’re in-person?

Right now, I switched to online classes, because I feel like I do my best in online classes rather than in person, after being virtual at Ánimo Jackie Robinson and during my first semester at Stillman. The only class I’m taking in person right now is my freshman orientation course, where I’m learning about the history of Stillman College.

What was it like to attend college virtually in 2021? 

The year before I came, the campus had already gone virtual. And when I came, we were just getting back to attending in-person. We called it back to the yard, which is when everybody was coming back to campus, and the upperclassmen made it very welcoming for us. 

One thing that out-of-state students might experience is culture shock. You’ve travelled from California to Alabama. Did you experience any culture shock in your first semester?

Yes. The weather is probably the biggest shock. Yeah, like yesterday it was 80 degrees in the daytime and by nighttime we had like a full snowstorm. Here in Tuscaloosa, you will never know what the weather will be like. 

How have you applied your experience from Ánimo Jackie Robinson to Stillman College?

Ánimo Jackie Robinson was really big on telling us that it's okay for us to reach out if we need help. So coming to Stillman, I had that already in my mind. I know that if I need help, I know I can reach out because I have people to help me back at Ánimo Jackie Robinson. 

What's one thing that you learned about yourself when you arrived at Stillman?

I’ve learned a lot. I really learned how to be an adult. Once I got here, it was a realization that I’m in college and I’m now far from family. You have to learn how to do certain things on your own. There’s a lot of growing up to do once you get to college. It’s a whole different ball game.

Now you’re in your second semester of college. What are your plans  for this summer? 

I told my advisor that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back home to California or if I wanted to do something here in Alabama. So my advisor suggested that I do summer classes, so I can get ahead, and I can take up work study to stay on campus during the summer. 

What is one piece of advice that you would give the class of 2022 for their upcoming college journeys? 

Follow your heart. If you know that you want to go out of state, reach out to people, because people are willing to help you along the way.