I’ve never had much of a problem being the minority, having attended predominately white schools for most of my education. Therefore, I expected that my experience at Georgetown would be no different from previous ones. Sure Georgetown had the smallest demographic of African-Americans of all the schools I had ever attended. But nonetheless, I expected that the atmosphere would be, to some extent, familiar. Once I arrived on campus, however, I came to realize exactly how small 6 percent really was.
One of the biggest awakenings I had was during New Student Orientation. On the second or third day, our RA had scheduled a floor meeting. We were all huddled into a tiny lecture room and directed to introduce ourselves one by one. I thought there’d be at least one person who looked like me, but somehow out of 60 kids, I ended up being “the only spot of buttermilk” in the room, as my grandmother used to say.
After two weeks of classes had passed, I asked myself exactly how many black friends (or acquaintances) I had made. The answer stunned me: none. I tried to think of a reason why. Had I just not clicked with any of them? Was I being closed off or unfriendly? Had I not made an effort?
The answer was that there had yet to be an opportunity. As I mentioned before, there are no other black people on my floor (or the floor underneath me for that matter.) In my large classes of 70 or 80 people there may be one or two other black students and typically the environment is not particularly conducive to socializing.
After having made this realization, I then asked myself why it bothered me. How many times had I claimed to be colorblind, claimed that a person’s race didn’t necessarily define anything else about them? Yet here I was, completely unsatisfied with the very friendly (and very white) group of friends I had been making.
Honestly, I can’t say that I know for sure exactly why I was bothered. Part of me thinks it stems from how self-conscious I became. When the majority of the people around you look nothing like you, it can be hard. I found myself nitpicking not necessarily about my skin color but the features of my face, my weight and most importantly, my hair.
Even before school had started, I was worried that my roommate (who most likely would not be black) would not understand or perhaps even judge me for the unique qualities that come with afro-textured hair. Right before my roommate and I decided to live together, I messaged her. “I’m African-American so my hair is weird. I have to wear funny scarfs at night to protect it. Does that bother you?” I asked her such a ridiculous question. Of course it didn’t bother her. I doubt it would bother anyone. Really, the only person it bothered was me.
Even now, having grown more comfortable with myself and with Georgetown’s environment, I still occasionally find myself desiring to be less different. There are times I really wish I could just be “the girl next door.” Perhaps then, I wouldn’t be re-evaluating who I am every moment of every day.
Still, I don’t feel as if this experience has been a bad or traumatic one. Although diversity is a beautiful thing, being put in a situation like mine, I believe, can be just as productive.
Right now, I’m in a period of discovery. Before, I never really thought a lot about my identity. I just was who I was, and there was never a reason for to me to reconsider that because there were always similar people around me. And similarity, for most people, is comfortable. Now, I am learning the benefits of being uncomfortable. I am learning to be OK with me, and part of that process is uncovering exactly who “me” is.
Perhaps this is what people meant when they said that college was a time of tremendous growth. I am realizing that adulthood does not just mean responsibility; it also means developing a sense of awareness: awareness of others and their differences as well as awareness of self and self-worth.
It is easy to be swayed by trends and the comfort of homogeneity. But we have to realize that embedding ourselves in such environments can make us naive and deluded. Honestly, there is no better feeling than being content with yourself. Once you’ve accomplished that, I believe you can take whatever else the worlds throws at you in stride.
Jasmine White is a freshman in the College. ’Bama Rogue appears every other Friday in the guide.