Should I feel so uncomfortable on my college campus? It’s beautiful here. The leaves have started to change. The pond is lit every night, casting a beautiful glow across the water. My favorite season is finally here. The campus has been groomed to utter perfection and yet I have never felt so uncomfortable. Because hiding behind the obvious beauty of the campus is the prevalent lack of color on campus.
Coming from the most diverse school in my state, I knew entering a predominantly white school would be a challenge. I was used to seeing different cultures and out of the ordinary things on a daily basis. Krysan and Marie wore African tribal print on Toga Day as opposed to the common white bed sheet. The Jamaican food, Tarren brought to lunch, made me lose focus on the homework assignment that was a week late. We imitated our parent’s accents and told stories of how we got disciplined as compared to the white kids in our school. Students refused to place their hands on the hearts to pledge allegiance to a country that clearly wasn’t theirs.
We all had a common connection and understanding of each other. Growing up in similar households, we accepted and praised each other’s cultures and traditions, even encouraged them. We embraced our natural curls, curves, and colors. Our cultures defined us. It was what connected us, but separated us at the same time.
Being fairly light, I never experienced the discrimination my peers and family faced. I never felt like my race made me feel less than. If anything, I had always wanted to be darker to fit in better with everyone. I knew about racism and the divide among the country, but it wasn’t until I came to college that I realized not everyone is as understanding as they were back home.
Mentioning things, such as white privilege is now like presenting a whole new outlook. I’ve had to, for the first time, stand up for myself and defend my race. I approach people and talk about the injustice and find myself arguing on matters that seemed so obvious to me. Saying Black Lives Matter is met with All Lives Matter. I got excited when I connected with someone who loved R&B but when I put Toni Braxton on, she looked at me like I had started playing Nickleback.
The disconnect I feel from my campus has come as a complete shock. It isn’t just me that feels disconnected in college. Multiple studies show that students of color, who face discrimination, have a harder time engaging with their campus the same way their white peers do.
The JED Foundation and the Steve Fund conducted a survey across 1,500 freshman students at various colleges. 57% of black students said that college wasn’t “living up to their expectations”. They report more micro-aggression, insults, and dismissals non-black Americans inflict on black people, than their white counterparts.
While dealing with the frustration of more and more black men dying, I am now combatting first hand with ignorance on campus by myself. Handling all of that and finishing homework is a task that all students of color are facing and universities need to start confronting the different experiences students of color are having as compared to the white students.