The art of being black at a predominantly white institution isn’t always pretty.
It is noting the experiences you have that others do not, simply because of the color of your skin, whether those experiences bring tears of grief or joy. It is searching the school newspaper’s website for the word "black," to read about problems that are unique to your community, and coming up with only a few articles that cover what it means to be a black student.
It is noticing how few people there are like you on your school’s publication, and finding yourself looking for a black newspaper, as if your issues are just yours.
It was for this reason that I decided to join The Daily Pennsylvanian this past fall. I felt I couldn’t complain about the issue if I wasn't taking any action toward improvement.
In my first couple months at Penn, I have experienced unintentional racial segregation. I have found myself slowly giving into the “them and us” mentality, often unaware that as a black student at Penn, it is easy to live a thoroughly removed life from my white classmates. "It's true that there are articles in the DP that are applicable to people of all races, and many people have made efforts to diversify the newspaper. In fact, during my short time as a columnist, I have not once received any backlash or hesitation from my editor on my race-related articles.
I went to boarding school, another place where diversity was meant to be abundant. There were substantially fewer black people at my school than at Penn. I was the minority in almost any setting other than a Black Student Union meeting. My friends and I spent four years in each other’s rooms, at a dining hall table, and in the toast room — a boarding school snack room — talking about religion and love and family in any and all contexts. There were not many people around that looked like me then, so I leaned into discomfort, or rather, was gently shoved into it.
High school is a challenging time for all, but I felt that as one of few black people in my graduating class, I was made to be a spokesperson for race-related issues more often than was appropriate. While I did my share of educating friends on racism in high school, I do believe that my experience with racism alone does not define my being. My individual experiences of love, family, community service, and academic passion are shaped by my identity with blackness — influenced by oppression, but not necessarily tainted by it.
But my narrative cannot be brushed aside with the optimistic notion that all Penn students are experiencing the same Penn.
This article was my pitch to join the DP months ago, and before writing it, I reached out to mentors to make sure that it didn’t come off as abrasive. I don’t believe any conversation about race should have to be so stressful. I think that we can have conversations about race in ways that don’t only focus on racism. Yes, police brutality and the 13th Amendment are very real and pressing issues; that does not mean that those are the only things that affect black students at Penn.
What is important is that we hear each other as peers. I can talk for hours about why I feel like I needed the HBO series “Insecure” or why my mom worries about me being careful in college for different reasons than your mom worries about you — I’m certain anyone on this campus has stories specific to their identity that they would love to share if given the chance.
This is not a contest for who has it worse. This is a call to acknowledge that the narrative of your black peers is different from your own. A call to give all students stories that they can truly identify with — schools, and school newspapers, are for students, after all. While statistics have their use, we know that diversity is more than a number. Let’s start talking.
KALIYAH DORSEY is a College freshman from Pennsauken, N.J., studying English. Her email address is email@example.com.
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