Stomping the Yard: Black Students, White Spaces
“There is one sin that slavery committed against me which I will never forgive. It robbed me of my education.” – Dr. James D. Anderson
If we’re not careful in light of recent student uprisings, we’ll forget who’s been robbed, denied and perpetually marginalized. Let’s be clear, blaming Black students for the current hostility on campuses right now is like blaming a robbed person for being robbed. The situations many of our students are facing today at PWI’s are age-old, insulting truths. Throw in major budget cuts, elimination of Black Studies Programs, attacks on Student Affairs’ resources, slices to Pell Grants and a mere 6% national average of Black faculty and what we have is contextual evidence that chokes post-racial homily.
Truth is, I believe few of us are surprised at this heightening of overt racism, microagressions and growing disparities seen on America’s campuses. In fact, even fewer of us are unscathed, as proven by our own similar experiences while students at said universities.
I still remember being told, “When your professor inquires about Black people/Black culture, then looks for your response as the sole Black person in class, tell them: ‘I am not the spokesperson for my entire race.’” Oh and please don’t forget to “speak to every Black person you see on the yard, even if you don’t know them. This is very important to being a Black student here!” These were the words spoken from upperclassmen at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Each year, we gathered for teach-ins and town hall meetings to address the prevailing racism, cultural insensitivity and other issues relating to our presence on campus. In short, we needed to know how to survive and thrive as Black students. I mean after all, we were there to ultimately graduate, right?
Well with all that’s happening on campuses today, one might find it extremely hard to focus unapologetically and with a strengthened spirit. With that in mind, here’s my advice, borrowing from the 5W’s of old:
Who: Know who you are and never forget that. You stand on strong shoulders. You don’t have to apologize for doing what’s right, no more than you dare apologize for your existence on campus. The Civil Rights Movement was fueled by the ingenuity of students.
What: Know your limits and what’s best for you, especially if you’re a justice-seeker. Few people will tell you this, but your emotional, mental and spiritual health is very important to your optimal survival on campus (and beyond). I choose a prayer life. Know what works for you.
Where: Know where you’re going. I call it your “landing space.” Create a healthy balance between activism and scholarship. I call that “Scholarvism.” Don’t be afraid to give of yourself, but always take inventory of your own personal goals and overall purpose. Get involved with organizations that help you grow and don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zones. Study hard! When possible, study abroad!
When: Know that “No” is a complete sentence! Know when to say “No” and never feel as if you owe anyone an explanation after that. In fact, with that in mind, develop what I call a healthy “EGO” (Exit Garbage Out). Don’t allow toxic people in. If they’re already there, lovingly escort them out.
Why: Know why you’re there in the first place. The above quote tells how a slave couldn’t forgive being denied an education, among all other things. Neither should you.
Dr. Gill is the CEO of Blackademically Speaking, a cutting edge educational consulting firm. She’s an award-winning motivational speaker and author of “Champions Break Chains and Black Genes-Black Genius: A Motivational Handbook to Empower Black Youth.” She’s on a mission to motivate and educate youth worldwide. See her inspire and empower youth here.