The Black Experience at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI)
published in Augusta University’s, Bell Ringer Newspaper(10/31/19)
It’s the first day of your freshman year in college. You’renervous. “Will I fit in?” “Will I make friends?” “Will I see anyone who looks like me?” These are just a couple of the questions you ask yourself. The day progresses and you go along with your schedule and one thing is uncomfortably apparent, one thing sticks out the most; you my friend, are the only black student in many of your classes. For most, this realization is a culture shock. You find yourself answering questions you never had to answer before. “Is that your real hair?” “You sound so white, where are you from?” Or you’re constantly dodging assumptions and stereotypes when your professor or classmate asks an “urban” question and they all look to you for the answer like you’re the spokesperson for all things black. You soon realize that no matter how hard you fight this, you are the spokesperson—the voice of black people, when you’re one of a handful of black people in a class. The question I’m asking is, “Is being black at a predominantly white institution (PWI) a thing?” You feel like a foreigner, having to explain your dialect, colloquialisms, and diction— but it shouldn’t be foreign because black people born in America are American, and we speak the same language. There are countless things you find yourself explaining; it’s a lot. Some may even say that it’s a full-time job being a black student at Augusta University.
For years, black people have had to hold two identities; a black identity true to oneself and a black identity that thrives in a white society. This is what W.E.B. DuBois talked about when he said double consciousness. You feel like you don’t belong, and you sometimes struggle with keeping your black identity while simultaneously thriving and gaining acceptance in a white institution. If you speak up against racial inequality, you’reimmediately labeled as an angry black person— a revolutionist. But if you remain silent, you feel like a traitor to the culture, to your ancestors. This is mainly because black culture is only celebrated in portions and it’s hard to know which aspects are acceptable to celebrate. If black culture was better understood, then we wouldn’t have to explain ourselves so many times, we wouldn’t have so many misunderstandings. Because frankly, many things that we deem to be racist, aren’t always racist; in fact, most misunderstandings happen because of lack of knowledge and understanding.Taken from blavity.com
One of these misunderstandings caused the Pom N’ Dance team to be misinterpreted. The Pom N’ Dance team started after many black students felt that they had no outlet to display their school spirit. This dance group is a majorette dancing squad, it’s a taste of a little Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) at a PWI. After their first performance, they were reprimanded for their dance because the cheer coach thought it was too provocative.
“I believe that the cheerleading coach didn’t understand what black majorette dancing and cheer was, I think that’s why she felt it wasn’t appropriate. It was something she’d never seen and ultimately that led to a huge misunderstanding,” said Taylor, a dancer for Augusta University’s Pom N’ Dance. Cheer and dance within the black community doesn’t reflect the stereotypes portrayed in mainstream television. It’s raw, it’s magical, it’s like something you’ve never seen.
So, where can we learn about black history or culture? School, right? However, at our university, blackness is not represented equally in literature, history, music, or art. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that colleges cycle out the token black heroes(MLK, Rosa Parks ect) and choose to teach us only about them. Most course curriculums are not diverse, even if they are it usually only consists of our few token black people. Even our professors here at AU are predominantly white. However, there are some professors, such as Dr. Bond, who go out of their way to make sure their students are leaving with a broader perspective.
“I make sure to include authors who normally wouldn’t be included in the curriculum to share a broad spectrum of texts with students and to get them to think about things from new perspectives,” Dr. Bond said.” If someone’s uncomfortable with that or it makes someone upset, then… I really think sometimes being uncomfortable can be a good thing.” Professors like Dr. Bond are breaking uncomfortable barriers and helping this university move toward inclusiveness and achieve oneness.
Many black students have come to the realization that instead of depending on someone else, in this case the university, to celebrate them, their culture, and their history, they can celebrate and educate themselves. Upon conducting a few interviews, it became apparent that although this situation is unfortunate and unfair, these students found solace and have learned to embrace the parts of themselves that they were trying so hard to suppress. Taylor from Pom N’ Dance says to “embrace your blackness! It was one of the best choices I ever made. I don’t feel like I must act any other way. Be yourself. Chances are, majority off us have felt the exact same way.”
At Augusta University, many students choose to stay within their comfort zone surrounding themselves with people who look like them. While some students have found peace with this choice, it’s unproductive to a cohesive and united university because it’s a modified version of segregation in a non-segregated place. AU tries to be inclusive and diverse, but truthfully, we can do better—we should do better.