Today, I’m very much inspired by the boastful pride HBCU alum usually exhibit when they reflect on their undergraduate experience. I applaud their undying citizenship and unwavering loyalty. Their own narrative has allowed me to reflect on my own. And we often don’t hear narratives like mine, but I’m writing to let y’all know I’m Black and I loved my Ivy League experience.
Before I continue, this can easily be interpreted as a black proclamation of bougieness, but I promise it is not my intent. From the point of admission, I was enamored by the prospect of joining an elite circuit of raw intellectual horsepower. I loved the idea of being surrounded by individuals who would and could challenge me academically. From my arrival, I was pleasantly surprised how abundantly black my surroundings were. Now before you come for my life, and inquire what Ivy League school was abundantly black?? I lived in a residential facility named “W.E.B. Du Bois College House.” While clearly my institution wasn’t “abundantly black,” living in Du Bois, an atmosphere that requires no further explanation because one can only imagine Blacks aged 18-22’s iteration of post-class activity, made it abundant for me.
Being at an Ivy also allowed me to develop an activist voice—a black activist voice. Growing up in New York, I never had to explore issues of race and ethnicity because I grew in such a melting point. And although I was obviously privy to discriminatory ideologies that drove individuals’ philosophy of thought, I never had to think critically about these issues as it pertained to an academic community. Discussing these ideas amidst the confines of a privileged realm armed me with a template to approach race relations in the real world. Now of course, the fact that these issues existed in my undergrad, and every Ivy, top 25, and PWI alike was quite problematic, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Unfortunately, those issues are an accurate reflection of the social climate in which we reside. And I’m all about taking honest pictures. It gave me a toolkit to have constructive discourse about the intersectionality of class, race, and gender that still guides how I conduct myself today.
While earning my black activist stripes and creating forums to discuss the microaggressions of racist sentiment that manifested in the Daily Pennsylvanian, my Ivy League school also challenged me to explore my own identity within my race. I never saw past my Caribbean flavor until I went to an institution where a Black experience wasn’t a homogenous narrative. Having those conversations made me understand what it truly means to be Black in domestically and globally.
Whether it was Penn, Cornell, or Yale, every time I stepped outside my residence, every time I entered a classroom, every time I fruitfully contributed to classroom dialogue, and every time I received an A, I knew it was a homage check to the great academics before me like W.E.B. Du Bois, Edward Alexander Bouchet, Rev. Irwin William Langston Roundtree whose 19th century-efforts showed we are intellectually worthy of world-class education. I knew it was a homage check to the Dr. King’s and the Roy Wilkins’ whose 20th-century efforts laid the fabric for an ecosystem of educational access to compensate for our oppressive past. I knew it was a homage check to the 21st-century efforts of John Stephens, YaYa DaCosta, Nana Kwabena Tuffuor, Luam Keflezgy, and Jidenna Theodore Mobisson, who showed us we are more than the expectations of degrees and the preconceived careers associated with them.
Lastly, despite the misconceptions of lackluster support Black students can receive at these institutions, I along with countless others, had people who rallied for our personal and academic well being. People really believe we can’t receive academic and institutional support because those resources don’t resemble us. I thank God for the support of those who didn’t resemble me like Amy Wrzesniewski and Laurie Miller, and for the Karlene Burrell McCrae, Daina Troy, Brian Peterson, Dr. Renee Alexander, Heidi Brooks, and the Risë Nelson Burrows who resembled us and tirelessly devoted their professional lives to our success.
Of course, this is just my experience and there are Black people who attend Ivy League schools and have a less then blissful experience. But there are a lot of us who love it. I encourage you to seek out those narratives as well.
IF YOU REALLY BOUT THAT LIFE, you are probably shading me wondering how my little reflection pertains to “Applying While Black.” But if I don’t dispel these sentiments that may prevent you from applying, you’re not really applying while black. You’re just assuming while black, right? So for those of you who feared these institutions for the incorrigible stories of modern-day oppression or inability to have support, I’m here to let you know those stories are real. And I’m not saying its for everyone. But I’m saying for those willing to accept the challenge, you couldn’t find a better training ground to arm you to tackle the countless professional and social obstacles life will throw you.