How to Prepare Your Grad for Campus Racism

My daughter is in her sophomore year of high school. She and I have been tackling the overwhelming checklist of tests, applications, interviews, community service hours, auditions,  essays, and other tasks that need to be completed and completed soon. I felt, and still feel, pretty confident that we could do all that was required. As a college graduate and educator, I knew I could get her through the process of preparing for college. That was until I saw this video.

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I have been preparing her for entrance into college, for her challenging course load, for the distractions a freedom and a social life can bring, even talking to her about her finances. What I had not thought to prepare her for was the racism that is still alive and well within the nation’s college and university systems. I did not think I needed to. Considering recent racial events, the younger generation had seemingly answered the call to speak against the bigotry of seasoned generations and stand for equality of all kinds. Yet, in this video is the same younger generation spewing a racist and separatist chant.

I graduated with an undergraduate degree from a historically Black university; Bowie State University. I received my graduate degree from a predominately white Jesuit university; Marquette University. Bowie had an inclusive atmosphere for me. At Marquette there were clear differences I knew to expect simply because of my race but most were accepting as long as I fit into what was “acceptable” to them from an African American. I found there opinion of me could change quickly as I stood in the lobby of my residence, the only face of color among a crowd of people, watching the O.J. verdict come down. We will just say my agreement was not well received and suddenly my name no longer started with a D for Denise, but rather and n for ni**a.

Now here I am, some years later, and I have to have a conversation with my daughter about the perception many on campus may hold of her simply because she is Black? I thought my experience was centered around that one isolated, racially charged event. Why cannot the fact that her qualifications of admission say she is equal? Why can’t her academic performance speak to her professional value? Is it still really whether or not they will let you in the club? The same clubs that afford the relationships and networking with presidents and decision makers of Fortune 500 companies and other potential employers?

I would like to think the culture among these specific members of this one specific greek organization is isolated to this one university, but that would be foolish. Clearly, as we prepare our high school children for college, we must have more meaningful and socially inclusive conversations to fully prepare them for what they may encounter not just as a student, but as a young adult. These conversations should take place no matter their race or gender. How will they behave if it happens to them, as well as, how will they behave if it is happening around them? What action can you take socially, legally, and through the administration giving specific examples of racism, sexism, and hatred of all types.

We must prepare them with a clear plan. During campus tours, have them ask about policy and protocol for certain types of incidents. Let them hear the testimonies of minority graduates and current students so they can have a clear picture of the campus culture. We cannot always be there to protect them once they leave the nest and begin the next leg of their academic and life journey. But we can do our best to prepare them. We can; not the news, not conversations with classmates, not politicians, but we can. We must.

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