Is There Really One Kind of ‘Spelman Woman’?

As an African American woman, I am automatically put in a box that come with stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. My mother always told me to not let anyone put me in a box, that I’m too extraordinary to fit in just one box. Looking back on my first year at Spelman, I realize the box that Spelman puts my sisters and I in from the moment that we stepped through the front gates. The ideal Spelman woman is how many girls, myself included, made their decision to attend Spelman. A Spelman woman is a change-maker, who gains experience with multiple internships and job opportunities while earning a perfect grade point average. Not only does she have the brains and the connections, she’s also involved in on-campus organizations and completes large amounts of community service. 

“Regarding my experience at Spelman thus far, I have found the image of the ideal Spelman Woman to be an unnecessarily imposed pressure by the Spelman community,” says Claire, a current junior. “The image of the ideal Spelman woman creates a fictitious mold and standard to which many students feel they must measure up to, often times in order to receive validation of their scholarly position at Spelman, as well as validation of their overall experience. I find such circumstances extremely limiting and unnecessarily exclusionary to Spelmanites striving for autonomy within their modes of self-expression.”

My first year at Spelman was a year of growth and realizing that there isn’t one type of “Spelman woman” and being okay with that. I found myself seeking validation from others, there were various times during my first semester where I felt that I didn’t belong at Spelman because my grades were not good enough. 

There are so many people who constantly tell Spelmanites that we are the best of the best, only the best women attend Spelman. Personally, I was very involved in high school and graduated with a 3.9 grade point average. So, after receiving a 3.36 grade point average towards the end of fall semester hit me hard. I was too hard on myself because I didn’t feel that I wasn’t good enough to attend Spelman. To junior Lauryn Hoard, “the problem comes from how fast paced our environment is. We tend to associate juggling various clubs, academics, and relationships with being productive. So, when we take some time to replenish and rejuvenate, it can sometimes make us feel behind and thus critical of ourselves.” 

 Why is it that at schools that are praised for breeding black excellence the students feel like they aren’t doing enough? “I used to think it was something that was created and used to empower us and make us feel like we can do and conquer anything,” says Jandolyn Washington, a second year at Spelman. “But now it’s almost like it’s been turned into specific criteria that you have to meet.”

 The issue of feeling like you are not upholding you school’s image is not a problem central to Spelman. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at many other historically black colleges and universities. Having standards for students who attend your school to uphold is not the problem. The problem is that these standards have manifested themselves in a way that is not beneficial to students’ mental health and abilities to learn. As students at these institutions we need to begin the conversation of change. Graduating senior Brijuan Phillips explains that one way we can break the mold is “by cultivating a greater sense of self, and self-worth.” She explains that “when you truly accept yourself, it doesn’t matter what anyone has to say about the way you are.” Another way to break this reoccurring ideal image is to reiterate to upcoming classes that it is okay to fail, and failure does not always mean the end.

Personally, I thought my life at Spelman was over after not receiving the grades I wanted. I thought I would not be accepted in the organizations I wanted to join and that I would be frowned upon by my sisters. To break the mold we, as students, must come together and begin the conversation of change. Without a conversation nothing will change “and that’s on period”.