"Why don't you go to a black college?" "You can't find your blackness at a white college." These are a few comments that I heard from my African American community when I disclosed the name of the university I was going to be attending for the next four years of my life. I felt that these silly comments weren't good enough reasons to attend a particular college or university. I also felt that if you didn't know by the age of 17 or 18 years old that you were black then oh well, too late.
However after countless credit hour after hour of not seeing a mirror image of myself conducting lecture after lecture, I began to ask myself "had I found blackness?" I sat in classes my entire freshman year with instructors and professors who were not black, course material that had no reflection of my black life, and very few if any other black students.
I glanced over my course requirements for a major in English with a literature concentration and was appalled at the fact that only one course worth three credit hours was required of minority or ethnic literature. The remaining 27 hours were to be in British literature, Victorian Literature and Critical Issues, which in my eyes interpreted as white authors and white critics.
After enrolling in courses that have no real interest to me, professors who related to me as the being "the black girl" in class, and being called one of the other three black students name I was fed up. I began to see the deconstruction of self among other African American students on campus who were in the same situation: A black student drowning in a sea of whiteness.
I enrolled in Introduction to African American Literature during the summer with little excitement. On the first day of the class I walked into a room with white-washed walls and began to prepare myself for either a teaching assistant or a old white professor. Instead a tall African American female walked in and sat her briefcase down on the table. I looked around the room and for the first time I wasn't the only black student in the class and I wasn't even one of three; in fact the room was filled with students whose complexion mirrored mine. That day "we" became the new majority and the one "white girl" being the new minority.
The "new majority" and the professor seemed to have a connection. For the first time I saw excitement from the black students, who seemed overly eager to learn. We now felt comfortable enough to offer responses and to ask questions. The professor related to the class and offered insight to her experiences and asked us about our experiences as college students. Needless to say I felt alive and rejuvenated after the class.
At that point I decided to structure my classes to include at least one black professor in my course load or a course about black life. I switched my major to English with a concentration in writing in order to take literature courses that were relevant to my culture.
Last semester I had four African American female professors. I was now a black student swimming in a sea of beautiful blackness. I was enrolled in "Black Woman in America" with Dr. Maxine Jones (Professor- History Department -Florida State University 1982), "Multi-Ethnic Literature" with Dr. Maxine Montgomery (Associate Professor- English Department-University of Pennsylvania 1992), "African American Folklore" with Dr. Jerrylin McGregory (Assistant Professor-English Department-University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana 1986), "African American Literary Tradition" and "Critical Issues In Literary Studies" with Dr. Chanta Haywood (Assistant Professor-English Department-California San Diego 1995).
I was exposed to new aspects of college level teaching, which included popular publications, university teaching awards, and the struggle for respect as an African American female professor. I realized how privileged I was to have four women who are specialist in their own rights, literary critics, historians, and strong black role models for the college student.
After being able to appreciate their efforts, I was made a better student by the unspoken and sometimes spoken encouragement that was given. So, should black students attend a "black" college? That depends on the student, through my discovery of the "black aspect" of a white campus; I can now say that I have found my blackness, or at least a greater appreciation for it.
You can send your comments to Katrina R. Riley at email@example.com.
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