Growing up in a city like Cleveland, OH, I have been surrounded by people with different stories, backgrounds, and paths for most of my life. I never had a problem going to different places and meeting people that aren’t similar to me. However, during my undergraduate career, I realized attending a college where people were different than I was, shaped me into the person that I am today.
Before going to college, I knew that college was the only way for me to leave my hometown.
I didn’t live in the best neighborhood and the school system wasn’t any better. Knowing that school was something important and influential in my life, I had to find outlets that would allow me to stay ahead of the game. Starting my sophomore year, I took entry college classes at the local community college, morning Saturday classes with a college prep program and dedicated my summer to taking pre-college classes at universities that I could only dream about attending full-time.
Looking back, I realize that I only did this so that I could set myself up for the university that I knew I would attend: a PWI or predominately white institution.
When applying to schools, I specifically stayed away from applying from HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) because I wanted to be a minority, even if everyday of my life I’m reminded about my status as a minority. I wanted to stick out, I wanted to make sure that no matter what, when I met someone on campus, I wouldn’t be remembered for the color of my skin but my intellect.
Once I decided to go to my chosen school, I knew that I would be in for the experience of a lifetime.
My undergraduate school was a private catholic school dedicated to improving the whole person and building the world’s leaders. The population at the school consisted of 4500 undergraduate, graduate and PhD students, with over 50% of the students being white and black students’ numbers varying between 3% and 5%. So, going to this school allowed me to stand out and use this environment to excel.
What I did not realize about going to that school was my race would be a main factor in how my experience played out. During my time, it impacted what friends I made and kept, how my classmates and I interacted, what clubs and programs I participated in, and overall, how at home I felt at the university.
With the percentage of black students being small, many times I was the only black student in class and at times I felt like I would have to represent my community.
When topics of racism, prejudiced and discrimination would arise, it was up to me to explain why these things were they way that they are and the solutions to these problems.
When I wanted to participate in different groups, programs, or retreats, certain people didn’t welcome me. Because I didn’t feel welcome, it started to impact my mental and emotional health which then impacted my academics and I wanted to leave my school.
However, by talking to other students of color and unpacking why I came to this school and why I should stay, I realized that I had this small animosity and hatred towards myself because of how much my race impacted my life and I didn’t embrace how much good could come from embracing myself.
From my second year to my last year at my school, I threw myself into the world and said: “I’m here! I’m black and I’m proud and you are going to accept me.” And it’s this philosophy that got me through the rest of my years.
I started doing better academically and made it to the dean’s list twice. I spent my whole junior year abroad where I learned another language and made friends in and out of the U.S.
I learned about my community and how I should uplift them on campus and around the city.
I started participating in clubs dedicated to empowering people, embracing culture and inspiring people that were in my shoes when they started school to realize they can make it over that hill when they feel alone.
I learned how going to that school made me into the person I am today and how I will always be grateful no matter how crazy the journey was.