Attending a Predominately White Institution Hurt But it Didn't Have to

Wooster hurt and when graduation finally arrived I found myself profoundly relieved, fascinated that...

Wooster hurt and when graduation finally arrived I found myself profoundly relieved, fascinated that I had survived, newly engaged (my fiancé proposed right after graduation), and ready to go.

Would I miss my girls? Yes. They were by far the greatest women that have walked this earth—full of grace, intelligence, vulnerability, and pride and I would miss our dinner dates, late night conversations, and moments with professors. However, I could not deny that most of our deepest moments stemmed from great discomfort and pain and I would not miss that almost as much as I would miss them.

I was tired of the drive-bys where bricks, peanuts, slushies’, and beer bottles were thrown by white “townies” of Wooster and white students. I was tired of being called a Nigger and Nigger Bitch. I was tired of being told to go home and having “White Power” screamed at me as a fear tactic. I was tired of knowing that if one of those trucks actually did stop they would not only beat me but rape me. I was tired of explaining that these acts of violence weren’t happening because of where I lived on campus but because I was a black woman and lived on a campus that created and allowed these acts of violence to continue.
I was tired of administration and students caring more about being called racists and sexist rather than caring about racism and sexism. I was tired of white people coming out of the woodworks only to victim blame whenever a student of color publicly “shamed” them by letting news outlets, trustees, and anyone in power know that black students were unprotected on campus. I was tired of attending race-forums and campus talks that always ended in our simple demands not being met and left everyone confused about why it took a student to go to CNN to finally convince the powers that be to put a camera at the street-light so that our tormenters could be brought to justice. I was tired of being ever conscious that I was black—so much so that I often forgot that I was a woman, sister, girlfriend, daughter, and cousin.

I was tired of being teased and judged when I returned home, deemed “too sensitive,” “too serious,” “militant,” and “one of those black people.” I was tired of feeling alienated by a room full of people that I loved who had expected me to go to college and insisted that I learn, but were ultimately turned off by what I was learning. So, why didn’t I leave Wooster?

I did not leave Wooster because even though I had The Gates Millennium Scholarship I had been rejected and waitlisted from every school but Wooster. I also could not leave because I felt like a sell-out for wanting to leave my friends in an environment like Woo. I lastly knew that I could not leave because no matter where I went to school I would always be a black woman in a community where racism and sexism were not only allowed but normalized and my leaving would not change that.

The crazy thing was that as out of place and hyper-visible as I and so many other black women felt, we were ironically invisible, and that was the unique thing about attending a PWI as a black woman. All of the violence, hostility, and discomfort felt so personal, yet no one knew our names, passions, fears, GPAs, majors—no one knew anything. How many times were we skipped over in conversation, stepped in front of, and brushed by because one didn’t see us? I soon began to understand that as hyper-visible and invisible as black women were on campus, this was just a microcosm of the real world. Why couldn’t I find information on black women attending predominately white institutions and their experiences unless I heavily researched?

Why was what I had said about race and sexism dismissed and deemed angry, but understood because a black man, white man, and white woman had said the same thing and had somehow validated my experience for the listener and been deemed smarter and cultured because of their perspective? The real question was, should I be surprised? No. Historically, the neglect of the black woman is no unusual feat. No one ever started any race riots for the rapes black women endured and no one ever called us ladies and women. And yet, we are all the time policed and put on as wardrobes to boost record sales and to assuage white guilt.

Wooster made me understand how imperative better spaces for black women are. If these schools are going to accept us then they need to recognize that how black women experience college is not the same as how black men, white men, and white women experience college. Colleges and universities need to also understand that intra-culturally black women's experiences are not universal to all black women’s experiences, and the continued neglect of black women is a reiteration of how much people do not care. Nonetheless, colleges and universities need to make creating spaces where oppression and its many structures and systems are deconstructed and dismantled. This is especially necessary because many—if not all--colleges and universities pride themselves on creating the best people and the greatest minds in the world.
So yes, while at Woo I was angry, uncomfortable, unprotected, and scared, and yes I was militant (and still am), and Wooster did hurt, but the experience grew me up. Now I have the confidence to irritate a few people (including family) by acknowledging racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. I don’t want to just survive anymore, I now know that I deserve to live in excellence, in safety, and peace of mind, and I want other black women to do the same. Attending a PWI does not have to be traumatic, and I hope that in response, PWIs do not find those 2 voices that exclaim that my experience (which is very similar to most) is a rarity and uses that as a reason to not attend to the real discomfort, racism, and sexism many black women endure on college campuses.


Randie Henderson is a Gates Millennium Scholar and recent college grad. She is driven to write, read, learn, and educate about ways to dismantle oppression in America and globally because she is passionate about people and justice. You can find her on randiejourney.tumblr.com

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