My Experience Being Black at UF & Tips for Incoming Students

I must admit that UF was not my first choice. And while it wasn’t my biggest concern, how my race would impact my time here definitely affected my plans to enroll. Being in a position where my racial identity was somehow a determining factor of where’d I’d attend university sucked, but for many people of color it is a serious reality to be considered.

I was born and raised in an area with a high African American and Latino population. The possibility of attending a university where black people make up only 6.01 percent of UF’s population (a percentage that it steadily decreasing) made me hesitant to pack my bags. I was honestly very afraid to select UF as my new home. Would I be able to handle the culture shock? Would I be exposed to the same cultural diversity that the website had promised? Would UF ensure that my college experience, and my safety, be as secure as that of my white counterparts?

Short answers: Yes, kind of — and only somewhat.

Being black at UF has definitely come with its share of ups and downs, but I honestly believe that I made the right choice for me. The recourses that the university provides are definitely a plus, and the faculty that I’ve had the pleasure to work with have made my time here worthwhile. But there have also been several ongoing issues where the needs of UF’s ethnic population have failed to be met and where student’s concerns have been either forcefully silenced or outright ignored. As a result, my use of the beloved phrase “It’s great UF,” which I once spoke with pride, has now been afforded a tone that I can only interpret as (bitter?) sarcasm.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that UF isn’t a school worthy of your attendance (or does it?), nor does it mean that your experience will be lessened because this. Every university is plagued with their own forms of drama and controversy; it is your job to sniff through their layers of bullshit and decide which scent is most appealing to you.

Attending a predominately white institution (PWI) as a minority (with little to no prior experience of attending one) means that your comfortability will be challenged — a lot. More so, it will take immense effort on your part to restore it.

To help you prepare for your enrollment, here are three pieces of advice and tips to keep in mind.

Why you'll find a home in student organizations 

Assuming that you’re interested in establishing a sense of community with people of your racial/cultural background, joining an organization with such a focus is essential. One of the quickest ways to meet new people, especially people of your own culture or ethnicity, is to join clubs like the Black Student Union which focuses solely on providing a space for black students. Fortunately, there are literally hundreds of organizations available to UF students, and many of them are culturally specific.

If joining an organization that creates a space to converse and build relationships with other people of your racial background is important to you, then you’ll have little trouble finding them. However, it is important to note that like most organizations, multicultural groups do not actively scout out new members. While they are most definitely happy to have your company, they have and will continue to survive without you. So, if you’re genuinely interested in an organization, you’ll need to take initiative: do your research, attend meetings and build connections with other members.

During my junior year I became a member of SISTUHS Incorporated., an organization established to improve the social disposition of underrepresented populations through community development, education, and the provision of other social services in our respective communities. It was through my membership with this organization that I was able to connect with other black college women, and work with them to serve the Gainesville community. The memories that I have made with my SISTUHS are a blessing that I will treasure always, and I truly hate that I hadn’t become a member sooner.

Not every organization that you express interest in will hold your attention, but the connections that you make while you’re involved could prove to be beneficial throughout your entire college career.

On holding others accountable

If you ever find yourself in a position that you are uncomfortable, or where another is making you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to speak up. While I am naturally a soft-spoken person, and I have a long history of struggling to make my voice heard in the classroom, making room for myself in important conversations is definitely a skill that I have grown to treasure.

One of the first courses that you will take as a UF freshman is a required humanities course. In these classes, it was quite common that race and culture is discussed in some form or another (it is a humanities course after all). And While I have no issues discussing these topics (I actually quite enjoy learning about other people’s cultures and discussing how racial identity can impact one’s lived experience), there are many who do not. Unfortunately for me, many of the students in my discussion section fell into the “do not” section and actively refused to participate. One student went as far as to deny that racism existed.

I was one of two minorities in this section and was so shocked by the comment that I failed to speak against it. I also failed to share my concerns with my professor afterwards. Looking back, I truly regret how that situation was handled. Fortunately, there were other students who were equally as upset and alarmed as I was and readily condemned the student’s ignorant but considering that I was one of the students who could be seriously affected by someone else’s prejudice; I felt that I had done a great disservice by not speaking for myself.

I remember being so afraid to say something, as if it would paint an even bigger target on my back. I remember being so upset with myself for not having been stronger.

It’s disappointing to admit that I have experienced similar situations of casual racism, but it’s the truth. For example, I have had my intelligence questioned a number of times by classmates and have even been completely ignored when working in group projects. Like seriously, I once had to speak to my professor because my group members refused to properly work with me. Anything that I added to the conversation was either dismissed or ignored and it put me in a very uncomfortable position.

The person that I am today would never allow the experiences that I had as a freshman to occur again. There is honestly no place or time where that type of behavior should be allowed, especially on my watch.

In short, do yourself the service of speaking up when you’re being excluded in the classroom or when a classmate is making ignorant comments. You’ll feel great for speaking your mind, and the aggressor(s) will receive a strong reminder that racism of any form has no place to exist anymore.

On beinng your most authentic self

This was something that majorly impacted me during my Freshman year. Stupid stereotypes like “Black people love watermelon” and the “Angry Black Woman” trope easily limited my comfortability in expressing myself. I remember actively avoiding watermelon when hanging out with my non-black friends. Unfortunately, this effort proved to be futile when my Freshman roommate offered me a slice of watermelon and when I declined her response was: “You sure? I know that black people love watermelon.” Insert MASIVE eyeroll here please.

Note: While I do love watermelon, it’s because watermelon is freaking amazing. NOT because I’m black.

In turn, I’ve come in contact with the angry black woman stereotype more times that I could possibly count. On several occasions white classmates have accused me of being “harsh” or having an “attitude” without valid reasoning. Nor have many attempted to get to know me a before forcing that insensitive narrative onto me. Most times it seems that all I have to do to warrant these assertions is to simply not smile.

Excuse my candor, but the angry black woman trope seriously needs to die in a hot fire. Trust me, if a black woman is angry (Which we have a right to be!) she sure as hell has a reason for it.

These feelings of insecurity quickly isolated me and made me uncomfortable doing the things that brought me pleasure. My mental health definitely suffered and, unfortunately, it limited my ability to be vulnerable with new friends.

By my second semester, I completely quit policing my behavior. As a result, I was much happier and felt free to consume as much watermelon as a wanted (this actually proved to be very little).

Ultimately, don’t sacrifice who you are because you believe that it may be perceived better. Racism and stereotypes are going to follow you no matter how much you try to tone down your otherness, so make an effort to embrace who you truly are and lead with that.

While UF, for the most part, met all of my criteria, it is important to seriously weigh your options before enrolling here, or into any other school. I can honestly say that despite the downsides, I have absolutely enjoyed my time spent as a Gator. So, if you’re certain that the University of Florida is where you’re meant to be, then know that you have a home here, and we’re definitely happy to have you.