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Act Six Scholar Uncovers Key to Finding Community in College

Anderby (Matthew) Anfinson ’19—part of Bethel’s first cadre of Act Six scholars—volunteers as a fourth- and fifth- grade basketball coach at HOPE Academy, a K–12 school he attended. Anfinson believes his leadership and communication skills can help him make a difference in his communities.

“It’s a lifestyle,” Anderby (Matthew) Anfinson ’19 says of the long dreadlocks loosely piled on top of his head. “I like to stick out.” Wearing a “Straight Outta Church” T-shirt, Anfinson lounges in a high-top chair on the second floor of Bethel’s Brushaber Commons, his enthusiastic chatter only broken up by greetings to passing classmates. In this setting, it’s hard to imagine Anfinson being anything other than the outgoing and well-connected student he has become. But he says this breezy confidence—his sense of belonging within a large, collegiate community—once seemed a freshman fantasy.

Anfinson, a relational and organizational communication studies double major, is one of 10 students who came to campus in 2015 as the inaugural class—called a cadre—of Act Six scholars. Act Six is a full-tuition, full-need leadership scholarship, which, Anfinson stresses, is not to be confused with a minority scholarship. The program is run in partnership with local faith-based nonprofit Urban Ventures, and it equips students who have exhibited high levels of involvement in their communities with leadership skills that will allow them to return to those communities as change agents. As leaders, these individuals also have a strong impact on their college campuses.

From a young age, Anfinson had dreamed of attending Bethel—having been introduced to the community and campus through yearly gatherings that his church held in Benson Great Hall. But as he approached his college years, he understood that this dream could only be accomplished through financial aid. “I thought, ‘If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s bill,’” Anfinson says. Provision from the Act Six program served as affirmation that Bethel was the place for him.

However, Anfinson soon discovered that college freshmen—even those able to attend their school of choice—have their own roadblocks to overcome. “My high school community was really tight-knit, so I actually found that it was a challenge to adjust to the larger community at Bethel,” Anfinson says. In addition, despite Bethel’s strides toward diversifying the student population—this year’s freshmen class is the most diverse yet, at 20.1% students of color—Anfinson experienced a significant shift from the culture of his high school, HOPE Academy in south Minneapolis, where 98% of attendees are students of color.

Anfinson, who was adopted from Haiti into a white family at 18 months old, says he’s generally comfortable in predominately white communities. But adjusting to the larger student population of Bethel after coming from a tight-knit high school—where Anfinson had the opportunity to participate in a wide range of activities and build meaningful relationships with most of his classmates—was a different story. He soon realized that if he wanted to avoid a “difficult and lonesome” college experience, he’d have to take advantage of new opportunities. 

“Community is very important to Matthew, and [at Bethel] I have seen him both hurt and come to life,” writes Priscilla Kibler, the former program specialist for Bethel’s intercultural student programs and services. “He sees himself on a journey and counts it a privilege to learn about the perspectives of those he comes in contact with.”

During Anfinson’s freshmen year, he spent time with peers in his Act Six cadre and joined the football team. But for his sophomore year, Anfinson made it his mission to connect with as many people as possible. He took three on-campus jobs: working as a student worker/front desk in the Office of Student Life, an officer for security with the Office of Safety and Security, and a mentor to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Bethel’s Inclusive Learning and Development (BUILD) program. He also engaged with classmates through his academic pursuits, becoming a member of Lamda Pi Eta—an honors program for communication studies majors.

Through these experiences, Anfinson says he gained a deeper understanding of the community at Bethel and began to foster meaningful relationships by openly exchanging ideas and stories. “I’ve found that there’s diversity within predominately white spaces,” Anfinson says. “People come from all different European backgrounds. When you’re able to discuss and embrace their backgrounds, they usually embrace yours.” The lessons he learned have continued to serve him during his travels overseas with the communication studies department on Europe Term 2017, where he’s had to cope with the difficulties of being away from home and once again building community in unfamiliar territory. “Not having the people I developed a community with back home, here, now, has been a struggle,” he writes from Poland. “[But] I have met the Lord in the most intimate of ways.”

Anfinson has also been able to use the leadership skills he’s gaining at Bethel to stay connected with the HOPE community, where he’s worked as a coach for the fourth- and fifth-grade basketball team. “Being able to volunteer time like that at the school I went to for seven years is fun,” Anfinson says. “And it’s been rewarding to find success and [see the students improve] as a coach.” As a communication major, Anfinson believes his ability to relate to and interact with others will one day be his greatest asset. “I love to talk, and I love to communicate,” he says. “I’m the type of leader who’s loud, on the frontlines, directing people.”

Students like Matthew—with a heart for community and leadership skills in abundance—are essential to fostering a balanced culture at Bethel; one that both challenges conventions and supports students on their journeys. It’s just one of the many reasons Bethel participates in the Act Six program. “We as faculty, staff, and students all benefit from the leadership abilities, ideas, and experiences that these [Act Six] scholars are bringing to the classroom, Chapel, and our offices,” Kibler says. “It is my hope that the stories and insights of these students will help us think about creating a more inclusive and welcoming home.”

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