I was a bit apprehensive upon first being asked to write an article about the experiences of a black student on a predominantly white campus.
Being particularly concerned with the misconception that I could possibly represent the experiences and views of every black student on this campus, I almost declined the invitation.
But after more careful consideration, I realized I had the opportunity to enlighten others on a few of my particular experiences here at Virginia Tech as an African-American student. No one person can accurately speak for any large group of individuals without total consensus. For that reason, I will not try to say my views represent the entire black community at Tech or anywhere else, although there may be many that share my opinions.
I entered Tech as a freshman in the fall of 1988. After having graduated in the top 15 of a small senior class of 230, I set my sights on becoming an engineer. My first year's bout with five-hour calculus and general chemistry quickly changed my major to political science. Four years later, with the addition of a sociology minor and an option in legal studies, I have the pleasure of looking forward to graduating on time in May 1992. With these accomplishments almost completely behind me, I cannot help but to look back at the weathered path which led me to where I am today.
When I arrived here in 1988, it was rare to see other faces similar to mine crossing the drill field. Talk about the "Twilight Zone."
I can remember being hit from all angles with such blows as racism (both subtle and overt), depression, conflict and alienation. Being an African-American in a predominantly white environment is not easy.
Although I had dealt with many different forms of racism prior to entering Tech, I must say that I was a bit naive in my expectations of "college life." I was looking forward to conversing with the elite "higher educated" of our society and gaining a wealth of knowledge to take into the world.
It was not long before I found that the legacy of racism does not discriminate on the grounds of intelligence.
The same people in white hoods that cried "nigger" do so now in plain clothes with degrees in their hands. I'm sure that in the not-so-distant future I'll have the "pleasure" of sitting across the interview desk with one of them in the position to hire me.
I have been constantly reminded of the care that the Tech and Blacksburg Police have taken to ensure that the African-Americans "stay in line." This brings to mind the time over 10 police cars responded to an altercation between two individuals at an event sponsored by a black student organization. Needles to say, it spoiled everyone's ability to have a good time there that evening. Coincidence? I think not.
These previous examples of blatant racism have provided more than ample contempt for the comments that I often hear from white students and faculty:
It's not hard to notice that I tend to be the only black student in most of my classes. This is even more noticeable when the class discusses issues concerning blacks or other minorities. I am instantly the "class expert" in such affairs merely because of my minority status. Moreover, I seriously doubt the professor is going to forget the occasion should I miss a day of class of two.
University sponsored social or educational events for the black community have been scarce as well. The only functions provided are overwhelmingly due to planning by the predominantly black student organizations on campus. Even Tech's homecoming is centered around the activities and events deemed appropriate by the white student body, regardless of the fact that the football team is largely composed of black individuals.
I can honestly say that I feel a system of de facto segregation exists at Tech. I feel black students need more university support and effort in providing an enjoyable and positive social atmosphere. Social activities are an important supplement to every student's college experience; it would be nice to know the university takes an active interest in aiding this experience for its African-American students.
For those of you who have drawn the conclusion that I am an angry black man who hates Tech, I would like to interject those thoughts with the assurance that I am no such person. I would not trade the experiences I have gained here for anything. Tech is an excellent academic institution that has allowed me to grow intellectually and learn to deal with many of the problems.
I've had to run, jump, dodge and duck the obstacle course of college life riddled with the ever-reaching walls of racism, the pylons of bureaucracy, the potholes of conflict and the pits of alienation as an African-American. Even as I near the end of the course, I feel as though I've just left the starting blocks.