A Shade of Brown in a Sea of White

There are over 26,000 students, 15 different colleges and over 190 degree programs here at West Virginia University. For all students, this means that the possibilities and experiences that can be realized are endless. However going to a primarily white institute can provide an additional set of experiences for people of color.

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Here’s the typical scenario a student of color can experience here at WVU.

It’s the first day of classes and your headed to your first one. It’s a small class, about 15-20 students, and you’re excited to get started. As you find the class number you walk in to find that you are the only person of color. Literally everyone, including your professor, is white. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You knew WVU was a mainly white campus and you have no problems with white people. However being in a class where no-one else looks like you can have an affect on a person.

“I feel like I stand out because of the fact that I’m the only person of color in the room. I’m usually a friendly person so my classroom interactions are the same but I still get an ‘elephant in the room’ type of feeling” said Fredrick James, a senior Business Major.

I too have had this feeling before. I’ve been told that there are places in West Virginia that are completely segregated or barely have any diversity to the point that some students may have just had their first interactions with people of color in college.

To me this was a big shock. I grew up in D.C. and have been exposed to a variety of different people and cultures. Yet to hear of someone being cut off from all other types of people all their life up until college just seems impossible to me. However sometimes I do get a feeling as if, in this specific situation, that I’m sometimes viewed as something akin to a unicorn or some other mythical creature.

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Specific topics in all white classes can create a different or awkward experience for a person of color as well.

“I feel like I’m constantly in the spotlight. All my actions get extra attention. When certain subjects like slavery or poverty come up I seem to be the one singled out. At times I would also get sly comments and looks of pity or like people were uncomfortable with me being there(in the class)” says Vincent Cropper, a senior majoring in environmental sciences.

I definitely think sensitive subjects like slavery can be a bit more touchy whenever a class is majority white and a black student is present. It mainly depends on a persons beliefs and societal views. I’ve personally been in classes where people have defended hanging the confederate flag even though it has been used alongside a lot of negative connotations regarding other races.

Yet, from the perspective of someone on the other side of the coin, there are some important questions as well. How do they feel when they are in a class with only one person of color? Do they notice? Are they more anxious or nervous to interact with them?

“I normally don’t notice and I guess it’s probably because I’m not a person of color”, said Amanda Hunt a senior Multidisciplinary Studies major.

This made me wonder, could this be a self imposed situation sometimes? Maybe there have been situations where I’ve felt like I stuck out mainly because I thought I did. Then again, there were situations where I’ve walked into all white classrooms and have literally seen people watch me all the way to a seat.

Whatever the case may be it can’t be argued that, for students of color, going to a PWI can definitely leave an impression on you and expose you to certain new and unique social situations.

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5 comments

  1. Although I am not black, I do understand where you’re coming from. I’m mixed and from the DMV as well. At home, nobody cares for my skin tone, nobody asks me what my ethnicity is, I just am who I am. Being in Morgantown… especially at work I constantly get asked what my ethnicity is, I constantly have people telling me my skin is glowing (not a bad thing). It’s just uncomfortable because I guess i’ve never gotten these questions before coming to WVU. I just think it’s strange of the reality that not everyone grows up in a diverse area and so coming to college it’s so different for them. The world is diverse, and people are who people are… just tired of the questions of what I am.

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  2. II’m white and I’ve been to some of the areas where it’s only white people and many have never seen a person of color. Growing up in a college town, it was less of an issue, but I was never in a community that was super diverse. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the time those are the ones staring. Many are unsure how to interact, since they’ve never done it before. For white people that did grow up in a more diverse community, they don’t pay attention to the racial differences in that way.

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  3. Ashley Conley · · Reply

    Mateo,

    This post was a great follow up to your group’s podcast last week (you did a fantastic job leading that by the way!) I am white and I have never really experienced anything bad because of my race, but I have certainly seen first hand how some people treat people who aren’t the same as them differently. You posed a question: how do people feel when they’re in class with only one person of color? Are they anxious to interact with them?

    My answer to this question would be that I don’t really notice these things. To me, there’s no reason to notice the color of someone’s skin. If a person is nice and respectable to me, then I already view them as a good person. What’s on the outside doesn’t matter!

    I really like how you asked a question of the reader here, because it really gets them to think and gets them engaged in your topic. This is a great post to get people talking about these situations. Great work!

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  4. miaswanegan · · Reply

    This was a great post and being an African American woman, I can relate. There are moments when I just feel a little uncomfortable. When I have some classes without people of any other race in them, it feels like there is somewhat of an awkward presence present and all I do is go about my business and smile, being my polite self. I try not to let it get to me most of the time but, it is so different than the crowd I am use to at home which is a complete melting pot.

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