The struggle of being the lone black student

The struggle of being the lone black student

The first day of school can range anywhere from exciting to challenging, or perhaps mundane for upperclassmen like myself. The first day signals a time for gearing up for hard classes, meeting new friends and pursuing new goals. All of these things happen through the help and support of professors and peers around you, who have been in your shoes or are currently struggling alongside you, but what is it like when you don't have that support? When no one can identify with your exact struggle or figure out how to even address it? 

You may find yourself alone, alienated, and unwillingly silenced. This is what it is like to be the only black person in a class. I have experienced this a number of times after three years here at The Capstone; walking into a small class early, and praying for another person of color to walk in the room only to be ultimately disappointed when I slowly realize this is going to be another long and lonely semester.

Being the only black person in a class can definitely be awkward. When topics of race come up you will be the only one to speak up from the side of all POCs. You may find yourself longing for diversity in certain curriculum. Or you may simply just be ignored with no one knowing exactly how to approach you or feeling comfortable enough to even do so. Being ignored is usually the experience I get when I have been the only POC in a class, as if a simple "How are you doing today?" Would send me flying off the handle. Being the only POC in a class may not seem like a big deal to non-POCs, but that's because they truly do not know what it is like. 

I have since learned that being the first to break the silence is a great way to get around the "big black elephant" in the room. Sometimes it's met with awkward laughs or., more often, the whole conversation just coincidentally stops. But it is still a way to avoid being forced to go through the class alone.

UA is 80 percent white with all other minorities making up 20 percent of the rest of the student demographics. While African Americans make up the highest percentage of minority students at 11.2 percent, this number does nothing to shorten the distance I and other black people feel from our white peers. 

If UA made more of a point to make sure that not only the university was diverse, but also each class, the divide may not feel as severe. Creating spaces and outlets for POC to come together and celebrate one another instead of leaving us to make up spaces all on our own from the ground up would also help.

Having another POC in class alongside you can create a sense of relief and comfort. To be reminded that you are not alone in your experience at a predominantly white institution gives you that support you need to want to continue your path to higher education. It makes that one hour and fifteen minute class much easier and worthwhile to have someone to instantly connect with and to give silent support just by simply showing up.

Madison Naves is a junior majoring in telecommunication and film. Her column runs biweekly. 

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