Summer in Syracuse: Like Learning the Bachata

Summer in Syracuse: Like Learning the Bachata


Jules Gouton

Syracuse University Professor Jeff Mangram (third from left) celebrates completion of the summer program with SBP Seniors (from left) Wood-May Joseph, Jules Gouton, and Juan Perez.

The best way to convey my summer adventure of traversing the challenges of a demanding University program is to say that it was like learning the Bachata.

This dance, which originated in the Dominican Republic, is intricate, demanding mental focus, physical stamina (it’s hip-involved), and requires extreme sociability. In other words, my summer was rocky in the beginning, but well worth the struggle. And, in the midst of everything, I really did manage to learn to dance Bachata.

I, along with two other Benedict’s students, Wood-May Joseph and Juan Perez, earned a scholarship to attend courses at Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. I took two summer classes, Media Literacy and Writing Comp, and earned six college credits. The beginning of classes was difficult. On the first day of Media Literacy, I was assigned to read a full chapter overnight. For Writing Comp, I was relieved to learn I was assigned to read what looked to be a meager prologue.

I worked steadily at the Library that day after my morning class and after dinner. By 7 p.m. I thought I was done with most of my work. I headed back to the dorm building feeling confident and happy, knowing all I had left was to read the prologue.  The prologue, it turned out, was 78 pages long! My hopes of relaxing for the rest of the evening were gone. That night, I went to sleep around 2 or 3 a.m.

That’s what I mean when I say my relationship with summer college was rocky at first. We were only just beginning to learn to dance Bachata. The first day was not the only day that I ended up going to sleep between 2 and 3 a.m. because of my heavy workload. That time of sleeping soon became my daily schedule and I sometimes even pulled all-nighters. I began to build a habit and, eventually, adjust to the routine of writing essays and reading every night.

The moves of the dance began to fall in place. I should add, though, that sometimes I ended up sleeping late because I would have some fun. But, hey, that was part of the college life!

After becoming accustomed to the scale of the work, I began to build a close bond with many of the other students who were there to learn also. We would go to the mall, eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, and have many arguments and intellectual discussions. It was somehow easier for me to make friends at Syracuse than at any other place I have been. In a matter of six weeks, I was able to forge deep relationships with the type of people who I know will be friends for life.

By the fourth week, I was definitely comfortable on my feet. I started to twist and turn; I was dancing far more smoothly.

I felt like a college student. I had the freedom to wake up when I wanted, take showers when I wanted, and go to the gym when I wanted, all without the restrictions of my parents. It was the first time I was so independent; no longer was anyone monitoring my every move. I got so comfortable that, at one point, I  brought my mattress to the room of two Benedict’s students, and had a sleepover. The hard work gave us the privilege of having freedom.. After four weeks, I was in a rhythm and finally able to balance my work with recreation.

Throughout the full six weeks of the program, I learned an array of new ideas and thoughts. I can say that I am more aware of who I am as a young man of color. The classes taught a lot about the experiences that people of color go through and have lived through in America. In both Media Literacy and English Comp, the most shocking and stimulating reading was “Case for Reparations.” It is an article about how the government would prevent Black people from being able to buy homes, through illegal activities such as redlining, therefore preventing them from building generational wealth. It was a story that I never knew about and that opened my eyes. It changed my view of my community and everywhere else in America.

A moment of epiphany came and it was when the connection between me and Syracuse University reached its apex. I opened my eyes and realized that for me to be successful, I have to work 10 times as hard as many others because I live in a society that does not want to see me succeed.

Before taking English Comp and Media Literacy, I considered myself “woke,” but after taking these classes, I was now able to communicate the ideas that I didn’t know how to express. I explored concepts such  as popular culture, subjectivity, mode of address, history, and politics. The class had become personal and important to me — just the way I feel about Bachata.

Through the process of making new friends, studying, and laughing, I had the opportunity to gain new skills—like Bachata—that can last me a lifetime.

Summer 2018 was the best summer of my life. Whether it be in growth, enjoyment, work, or study, no other summer of mine can compare.