“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,”
As an incoming freshman, I, like everyone else, was excited to take on this new adventure we call college. I was ready to leave my small, country hometown and my close-knit group of family and friends to take on a new life in an unfamiliar city.
I was completely in the dark. What I didn’t know was how difficult attending a Predominately White Institution (PWI) was going to be as a young, confident, 18 year old Black woman. Feeling alone, and isolated as a student of color at American University, became the norm for me and many others. No matter where I turned, my race was the elephant in the room.
“I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.”
With two years under my belt, and working on my third, I have to thank my God for giving me the strength to be resilient through everything I and my brothers and sisters of color have had to endure at this institution.
“In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
I have watched the university I love protect authors of racists Yik-Yak posts like, “If you bring the ropes, I’ll bring the fire” in the midst of sheer terror for Black students. I, as well as my fellow students of color, have been mentally and emotionally attacked from students and professors harboring racial tension from the day we stepped on to campus. Micro-aggressions in the residence halls and in classrooms has forced us to take the lead and become student-teachers of Oppression 101.
I have witnessed my peers, first hand, become victims of racial discrimination and, most recently, need to help console members of the Black community as not just one but two of our sisters have had racial hate crimes directed toward and at their existence as if to say they don’t belong here.
We are told that we are overreacting by peers and those in administration tell us that we must channel our frustrations into action, but have yet to spend a second to deconstruct our emotions before the next racial incident happens on campus. This is #TheRealAU. Students of color, and students who do not find themselves as members of the minority community, live in two separate realities on campus.
Yet we, students of color, keep moving forward with our chin held high, for we have consistently refused to let the racist and unsafe environment get the best of us.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,”
Still, as we’ve seen in years past on campus, across the country and around the world, there exists more hate, racism and discrimination. While we are dealing with this here on American’s campus, these same issues are impacting our brothers and sisters on a domestic and international level.
“And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.”
As students of color at a PWI, we are defying the odds. Collectively, we are student leaders, activists, community organizers, volunteers, RA’s, TA’s and yes, even Student Government presidents. Through each obstacle we have faced, in our experiences at American University, we continue to push. We continue to be successful. We continue to slay.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,”
To those who have felt like this university is not for you, like you don’t belong, like someone somewhere made a mistake… They didn’t. You belong. And this is your university. I want to commend you for taking those steps when you didn’t think you could move. I want to thank you for showing student body that you matter. And from the bottom of my heart, I want you to remember that no matter what you go through in life, how much adversity you face, you can and will rise above it and will be all the better for it.
Thank you to our allies in the faculty, staff and in administration for encouraging us to lean into discomfort to create social change here on campus. You all know who you are. I know change won’t happen overnight but I promise, like everyone else should, to do what I can to insure this institution is better upon my graduation than it was during my convocation as…
“I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
- William Ernest Henley (1875)
Taylor Dumpson is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and is the President of the Intercultural Greek Collective.