First semester of senior fall– regarded by most as a semester of stress, anxiety, and jitters for the future. A future in which we seniors will have to, for the first time in four years, figure out the tone of a new educational community and our place within it. Indeed this is a semester of fear and I feel it too. But as a student of color, I feel a fear that I’ve never experienced before, as I wonder about my racial future and safety at the next educational institution I attend.
Like several other seniors, I feel the need to escape the city I have been born and raised in. In this way, I will also be leaving the liberal New York bubble that has sheltered me from the “true” America that exists outside. Venturing outside this bubble has revealed to me the stark differences between my city and the college world I will engage next year. For all our complaints, 14% of BHSEC’s students were black in the 2013-2014 school year. The colleges that I am looking at are labeled diverse if their campus boasts more than 6% of black students in their population.
But it is more than simply the numbers that concern me. It is a fear of the atmosphere that I will entering. A sense that there is no avoidance of that painful moment when I will be told “yeah, but you got in here because you’re black.” A sense that I will have to enter college and decide between befriending the black students who look like me or the white students who have backgrounds like me. This fear is embodied in the moment when my parents sat me down and said “as you’re entering college and its dating scene, please remember that you need someone who regards you as more than simply exotic.” They implied that exotic will manifest through the combination of my mocha brown skin that does not typically match my personality and demeanor that so many have labeled white. You may say that my worries are unlikely to occur, but I simply cannot believe that. At every college campus I have visited, I asked “what structures here are put in place to support students of color?” I always receive an answer along the lines of “We have x,y, and z. I’m not going to lie we have race problems here but it’s the same at every college.” And here is where my dilemma lies, if it “is the same” regardless of the college, am I safe anywhere?
Please do not undermine my use of the word safety. I am genuinely concerned for mine. And I am rightly afraid in an era when this month the statue, of James Meridith (University of Mississippi’s first black student) was vandalized with a noose. I am scared when Yale’s black students are turned away at the door of a party that only wanted “white girls,” to attend. I flinch when I hear that black students at the University of Missouri felt so abandoned after incidents such as a swastika drawn on a residency hall in feces that they began hunger strikes. And I am speechless with fear as I worry for the students at the all black university, Howard, that are being cautioned to stay inside because of death threats issued against them. I hear of these and I and wonder what, not if, racial instances like these will occur to me at my next educational home.
This semester is one of tentativeness as we all worry about making the wrong choice and ending up at the wrong school. But it is a different level entirely to worry that you’ll end up at a school that has no room for your racial identity at all. And such fear is too heavy for young students of color to bear. For us to grimace as we acknowledge that college opens a culturally insensitive door that we do not control, but that shapes our lives entirely. I am afraid this semester because of college. Because I realize that next year I will enter a world that might not have room for me and my identity.