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An African American experience

There was an incident that occurred the fall semester of my junior year, back in 2017. I can remember leaving my south campus apartment with intentions on getting to my 12:00 p.m. class. As I was walking to the shuttle stop, I spotted a public safety vehicle to my left, carrying two officers. I had headphones on but I turned the volume down slightly because it seemed as if one of them was speaking to me. The officer asked me if he could talk to me for a second and I declined his request since I had to get to class. I walked to the shuttle stop and not even minutes after sitting, the officer was standing over me.

I began to feel uncomfortable because of how close he was and the way we were looking at each other. I asked him what he wanted and he tried to explain to me that he’s a “good cop” and that I have no reason to feel uneasy. I explained to him that I just do not feel the urge to speak to anyone at the moment. The officer enlightened me on the current case or assignment he and his partner were working on, involving a black male suspect on a bicycle.

One of the first questions he asked me is if I owned a bike and I told him I did not. Afterwards he gave me the description of this suspect and why he approached me; the description was black male, facial hair, blue jeans and a book bag. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it is more than safe to say that he just described the majority of black males on West Chester’s campus along with any other black male on other campus’ elsewhere.

My attitude changed once he was done explaining why he wanted to speak to me. I then told the officer that his description and reasoning for interrupting my day was a waste of my time, and that I was no longer—not to say I ever was—obligated to speak to him anymore. He made an implication that prior to me sitting down at the shuttle stop that it looked as if I was smoking some illegal substance because of how close my fingers were to my lips. I brushed the remark off because at that point I felt as though he was trying to get a rise out of me.

I heard the shuttle bus approaching the stop, so I began preparing myself until the officer started asking me for my student ID number. I denied his request because I didn’t see the point of it. I already informed him that I was not the suspect he was searching for. He went on to say that I can receive a judicial from the University by refusing to give a public safety officer my student information. Honesty is the best policy, so I’ll admit to becoming emotional continuing my refusal I stood up to put on my book bag so I could get on the shuttle that was in front of us.

As I stood up, the officer put his hand on my chest to stop me from stepping around to get on to the bus. I felt threatened and at risk of harm at this point, so I put my hands up while reciting my student ID number. He checked for confirmation via his walkie-talkie with someone on the other line and once everything checked out he left the scene as I finally went on the shuttle bus.

It is not unheard of for an African American to feel out of place in white spaces. WCU professor, Dr. Michael Burns, states, “Yes, I’ve encountered racial prejudice from peers and have been subject to racist treatment by agents of the state. But I also know that those negative experiences have nothing to do with my blackness and everything to do with the agents’ investments–knowingly or not–in white supremacy and anti-blackness.” These words are positive and reassuring in the sense that young black students should never be blaming themselves for the actions of others when it comes to racist and prejudice behavior.

Professor Burns goes on to say “the times I’ve been fortunate to bear witness to gatherings of African heritage students, I recognize a caring community. Yes, this campus could be more inviting, but there is a critical mass of black students claiming space here—and that gives me hope.”

These words are hopeful in the sense that there is an apparent issue within this world and on our campus that only impacts a select group of people but when it boils down to it unity is the key to this unsolved dividing issue.

Here on the campus of West Chester University, a predominantly white institution, there are not a lot of black faces to look at as compared  to the mass of the white student body. Numbers don’t lie when it comes to which demographic of students are considered the majority at this university, and that alone (with none of the white students being at fault) can cause an uneasy feeling from black students. It is very easy to settle into a space space/environment when the people look like yourself.

That feeling of being away from those you’ve known all your life slowly fades once coming into contact with your own people. Settling in to WCU as a black student brings a couple of drawbacks due to the lack of representation. There are unfortunate moments that can make a black student question their livelihood, for example, seeing racial slurs on classroom walls, being called a slur face to face, offering the only seat on the shuttle bus to a white person only to be ignored for whatever reason and watch them continue to stand rather than taking the open seat. These may seem like minute issues to people who have not experienced them, but it isn’t about who it is or isn’t happening to, the problem is that it is happening in general and the comfort of our black students matter as much as the other thousands of attendees of West Chester University.

Eric Lowe and Lee Holmes are working on a series on being black at West Chester University. To share your experiences, contact them at EL853319@wcupa.edu and BH878969@wcupa.edu.

Eric Lowe is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in journalism. EL853319@wcupa.edu

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