Surviving a PWI While Black and Why I Won't Transfer
BY: JENNA CALDWELL
Being a senior in high school is probably one of the most thrilling and yet, scariest times in a young person’s life. Choosing what college, university, or any sort of secondary schooling to attend can be not only frightening, but stressful. When I had to make my college list (that changed one too many times) I thought of questions like: Do I want to go to somewhere warm or someplace with seasons? How far away am I willing to live from home? How good is the school’s financial aid program? Are they known for my major? How’s the food? etc. etc. Never once did it cross my mind to attend an HBCU. I did not go to a predominately black high school and thought it was better to be surrounded by a racially diverse student body. Little did I know the racially diverse student body that I was looking for would end up being over 60% white and seasoned with a few prejudicial racists for flavor.
The first college party I ever attended was in a frat house surrounded by sweaty bodies, a ping pong table, someone’s Pandora and what appeared to be a game of how-drunk-can-I-get-before-the-cops-arrive. This is college? I thought to myself. Four years of this? Seriously, how many times can one listen to Jumpan on repeat? Before I could throw in the towel for having any sort of fun on the weekends, an old high school friend had invited me to an all-white hbcu party. Good music (supported by an actual DJ), good dancing and good vibes all around. I was hooked.
A few months later, I was practically an HBCU student. I attended their parties nearly every weekend, I went to sports games, dated someone, made friends, and even owned a sweatshirt. And all this time, I was in awe of their school spirit be stronger than that of any patriotism I had seen even watching an Olympic sports games. I wanted to be a part of it. I took a tour of the school, amazed at the fact there was such a thing as “Soul-food Sundays.” When it was the last day of black history month, my dining hall decided to serve soul-food. I still remember the gathering of a few students in the floor lounge whispering amongst themselves “I get it is black history month and all, but why do we have to have black food.” My friends and I laughed this off saying they were used to our dining hall’s food without seasoning, but in reality, things like this happen way too often.
I remember my roommate attempting to have a one-sided argument with me that “the n-word is not yours to reclaim.” There of course comes the sense of annoyance when people ask to touch your weave or watches in amazement as you unbraid your hair. There’s also the silly jokes about having to wear a night scarf or not simply understanding some of things they say are subliminally racist. Fun fact: a student in my class argued that the reason black people dominate the NBA is because we have some extra sort of muscle in our legs. Um… FALSE. These are all of the things I would not experience at an HBCU.
At times, I imagine the student section of my university’s basketball game attempting to do the “swag and surf” and I cringe. I regret not having applied to an HBCU because it would be four years of being surrounded by the same people of my culture. People who would have a different outlook in life and share the same struggles as I do. People I would not have to explain everything to. I can hear myself on campus now: “For the millionth time, Martin is a show starring…”. This is not to say all students who attend HBCUs are one in the same as they are all diverse in their own ways, but culturally I would fit in more. Be more comfortable.
And yet, I have not transferred.
While having fun at college is of great importance, so is the work and the intended success to follow. Personally, the school I attend has tremendous opportunities and resources. It is more than well known for my major, a major that the two nearest HBCUs do not have. I have made friends here and I have joined organizations that I love. HBCUs produce countless successful hard working adults, as do PWIs, but why not live the best of both worlds? Staying at my PWI allows me to seek out and connect with other students of color and work on projects with them to continue to grow and create a more comfortable community. If I were to leave I would be abandoning all the hard work I have started.
Therefore, in the end, I will continue to attend my university for my education, resources and close connections and I will continue to attend my HBCU events for the community, culture and comfortability.