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African American students on clear and distinct racial divide

Beverly Daniel Tatum’s book “Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” states, “Why do Black youths in particular think about themselves in terms of race? Because that is how the rest of the world thinks of them. Our self-perceptions are shaped by the messages that we receive from those around us, and when young Black men and women enter adolescence, the racial content of those messages intensifies.” This powerful book talks about how students feel they must come together in a racially mixed school because they need to feel close to someone who understands what it means to be like them.

22.3% of the population [of West Chester University] are listed as ‘students of color’

According to West Chester University’s website, there is an undergraduate population of 14,592 students and a graduate population of 2,960. Based on that population, 22.3% of the population are listed as “students of color.”

Tyler Lowery, a Black student at WCU, gave a few words on the topic of his comfort on campus: “There’s always a discomfort wherever you go as a Black man, whether in the ‘real world’ or attending a predominantly white institution. It’s all based on the stigma attached to us. Society teaches us that we’re inferior, so there’s always a pressure when people look at us. In the real world, it’s that we’re thugs or something like that and on campus, it’s that we’re not as smart. The trick is turning that energy, that stigma, into fuel to propel you further in your endeavors.”

In the WCU campus climate survey published in 2016, students provided personal feelings and experiences that dealt with uncomfortable and hostile occurrences happening in their work and class environment at WCU. One student said, “Many students experience racism every day and no one has taken the initiative to adequately deal with racism on campus.” The report touched on the YikYak (a social media app where users can post comments anonymously) dilemma where racial slurs directed to African Americans flooded the app. Some respondents to the survey gave more explicit information, claiming to have witnessed white students spitting on black students while referring to them in a racist manner.

The mission statement of West Chester University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs states, “The primary mission of the Dowdy Multicultural Center is to maintain a supportive environment that promotes the academic achievement and personal well-being of multicultural students. This is accomplished by providing a range of services, programs and activities that enhance and support the academic and personal development goals of multicultural students.”

“I feel like as a university that pushes for diversity, we still have a lack thereof,” said Gabrielle Smullen on some of the emotions running through WCU’s African-American community. “There is a clear and distinct racial divide that classes minorities as the lesser portion of the university. The push for diversity is forced, which divides the student body even more, making kids of color feel uncomfortable and out of place.”

Many students experience racism every day and no one has taken the initiative to adequately deal with racism on campus.

A report by Scott Jaschik titled “Black Activist Need Not Apply” showed that several college admissions officers may want to give the impression of reaching out to black students, but if they are “too black” and want to bring awareness of white privilege to a campus, then they may not be considered for admission.

Jashick’s article references a study conducted by Ted Thornhill, an assistant professor of Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he reached out to admission offices with fake Black names to test the authenticity of the system. He found that there is a “clear pattern whereby white admissions counselors are more likely to ignore Black high school students’ inquiry emails if they betray an acknowledgment of the continuing significance of white racism.” He concludes by saying, “My findings suggest that they may be treated unfairly if they evince a rejection of color-blind ideology.” The results of this research seem to go back to what the book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together?” says in the section discussing feelings like giving up your identity to fit in a school environment, still leaving equality out of the picture.

Frederick Fleming, a WCU graduate student, spoke to how he would have felt more comfortable attending another university during his undergraduate career:

“Looking back after graduation, I think that I would have rather went to an HBCU (historically black college and university). Not that I didn’t like attending my predominantly white institution; it’s just that things I learned here made me think that I wanted to be with my people. I do feel the same as I would walking around in the regular world. There are less of us in professional places, and I feel the exact same way here at school. This is the main reason looking back that I think I wanted to go to an HBCU. I think that they are more ‘lit’ and that surrounding myself with ‘my people’ would have made me feel at home. I could have felt more comfortable.”

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

Lee Holmes is a fourth-year professional studies major with minors in journalism and business law. BH878969@wcupa.edu

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