“It’s All About Finding Their Place of Belonging”: By Sharing Her Own Experiences, Carlia Kearney ’23 Inspires Students as a FLI Guide

Campus Life, Diversity and Inclusivity, Leadership

November 3, 2021

single-paper-background Carlia Kearney '23

Carlia Kearney ’23 wasn’t part of Hollins’ FLI program for first-generation, limited-income students during her first year at the university, but that didn’t disqualify or discourage her from eventually becoming an enthusiastic participant.

“I honestly didn’t know the FLI program existed until [Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students] Trina Johnson reached out to me the summer before my sophomore year. She thought I’d be a good candidate to be a FLI Guide, and I thought it would be a good experience.”

FLI Guides are sophomore, junior, or senior mentors who work closely with students during pre-orientation and throughout the academic year to enable them to build relationships, connect with valuable resources, and learn important tips for success.

“I knew how I felt as a first-generation, low-income student when I entered my first year here,” says Kearney, who hails from Franklin, Virginia. “So I wanted to be there for anyone facing similar challenges.”

Kearney believes her most important role as an FLI Guide is “validating students’ feelings while questioning their way of thinking to broaden their perspective. I want to make sure they know their doubts and their long-term and short-term goals are being heard. I just want to be a part of their support system.”

In addition to gathering for weekly dinners and other activities sponsored by FLI, Kearney says she is in constant touch with the five students she mentors through group chats and seeing and talking to them individually almost every day.

“It’s all about helping them find their place of belonging, which is hard in a new environment,” she explains. “They may not know where they fit in or are fully aware of the groups that are available to them. A lot of people are so withdrawn and afraid that they won’t push into those outlets. What we do is, we try to expand their comfort level.” She adds that one of FLI’s goals this year is getting the campus community involved in program activities. “We hope to expand their networking to meeting people outside of FLI.”

Kearney encourages students to “take advantage of any and every resource. Create your own path and take control of your happiness. Have faith, because there is something special in you, whether you see it or not. Believe in yourself because you deserve everything positive that life offers. In FLI, we understand each other’s doubts, fears, and insecurities, and there’s no shame in talking to one another because we’re very comfortable and it’s a safe environment. There’s that encouragement element that comes from having those conversations and knowing, ‘Hey, this person’s gone through the same thing, and they’re thriving.’ We tell those doubts and fears to shut up. Your purpose is bigger than a little fear telling you that you can’t go to college.”

Above all, Kearney says, “I want to help other people adopt a growth mindset. There’s always room to grow in anything, so just helping people realize that and have them share it from person to person, that’s what I want to do. I want everyone to be on the same page and succeed.”

Throughout her Hollins career, Kearney has tried to embody that advice and feels “I’m at a place where I’m my most authentic self. And because it’s so genuine, I can share it with others. I can spread the same joy and optimism, and I’m way better at being a mindful listener.” She says she still wants “to keep growing as a person,” and her involvement in Hollins’ Batten Leadership Institute is “providing me with the tools I need to be the best version of myself.” She’s also taking a diverse array of classes that she is confident will help create opportunities for her after graduation when she plans to attend law school.

“I’m not sure yet what type of law,” she notes, “but it’s going to be something challenging.”