Non-traditional students carve their own place at UT

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Photo Credit: Geo Casillas | Daily Texan Staff

With over 1,300 student organizations across the 40 Acres, the possibilities can seem endless in the journey to find your place on campus. While they may have the same access as everyone else, the options for nontraditional students are surprisingly limited.

On most college campuses, nontraditional students are classified as enrolled students over 25. They can also be students who are working 35 or more hours, enrolled part-time, financially independent or have a GED instead of a high school diploma. For these students, adjusting to the more youth-driven college social life at UT can present challenges not faced by the majority of their peers.

While most organizations market themselves as being inclusive and open to every demographic, Lisa Sanders, a 34-year-old sociology and information science senior, said her experience was quite the opposite. In many cases, students were dismissive of her.

“When I got to UT, I started checking out groups on campus,” Sanders said. “But I had a lot of pushback because of my age …  they looked at me like I had the plague.”

Sanders said she was frustrated with the lack of organizations that were inclusive of nontraditional students and decided to take matters into her own hands by starting the Non-Traditional Students organization. As an extension of Texas Transfer Students, NTS is inclusive of all UT students who would like to join. 

“Honestly, anyone who feels like they are non-traditional can join,” Sanders said. “We don’t want to be exclusive.”

Sanders said that, as the president of NTS, her goal is to bridge the gap between the different age groups on campus.

“The point of college isn’t to live in your own little social bubble,” Sanders said.

Jennifer Zane, 24-year-old health and society junior and co-president of NTS, classifies as non-traditional because she is financially independent. Zane said that her social experience at UT has been more positive than that of Sanders, citing her outgoing personality as a primary reason why she has been able to make friends outside of NTS.

What was most difficult for her, Zane said, was not her age, but the financial worries many of her younger peers didn’t have to endure.

“I actually had a crisis my first semester (at UT) and ended up homeless and living in my car,” Zane said.

Zane said that she was still homeless when she met Sanders in 2016 and didn’t become an active member of NTS until this semester, when it was decided that she would take over as president upon Sander’s graduation in May.

For Zane, she said the best thing NTS has done for her is provide her with the social support she needed. She hopes to work on expanding the organization to offer more resources for
non-traditional students during her tenure as NTS president.

Clint Hyslop, 39-year-old government and history junior, said he is excited to see where the organization will go. Hyslop was enrolled at a community college in Fort Worth for his first few semesters, and he said the transfer to UT was rougher than he expected it to be.

“I was never the oldest person in any of my classes at community college,” Hyslop said. “I never felt out of place there, so the disconnect at UT affected me for a while.”

Hyslop said it wasn’t until he got involved with NTS that was able to feel like he has people to talk to and share experiences with.

“NTS has helped me feel like not just a part of UT but a part of Austin as well,” Sanders said.