Opinion: Being a Black Student at a PWI

Cloud Benn

I never imagined I would be accepted to a university outside my state. My original plan was to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, an Historically Black College (HCBU), but fate had other plans for me. During my senior year of high school, I found out that I had received the Posse scholarship, which would cover full tuition with weekly faculty mentoring. My family and I were so excited when they said, “You will be attending Illinois Wesleyan University.” The scream that left my body was from another world. I never thought I’d get a chance like this in a thousand years, but it happened, and I celebrated in my own way. 

Despite this, I did have second thoughts about attending because it is a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) due to the fact that not many people of color go here. As a New Orleans native, my school was filled with people of color from all different backgrounds. In the city, I only saw white people as tourists on vacation, Mardi Gras goers, or retirees. 

When I moved on campus, I moved into Pfeiffer on the rainbow floor, so sharing a room is nothing new for me. Once I moved in, Influencing and Maximizing Positive Academic and Campus Transitions (IMPACT) orientation took place, and I didn’t feel as isolated since there were a lot of people my skin tone and coming from different backgrounds. Despite IMPACT, there was regular orientation right after and I lost sight of every person who was at IMPACT orientation. After being brought back to reality, I realized how IWU would work for me. 

The experience I have with being a student at IWU has been very different from that in movies and television shows. When I started classes, there weren’t too many students that looked like me in the classroom, only two to three excluding myself. It isn’t surprising to me because both my parents attended a high school or university where there weren’t many black students, so I was given the stories and experiences they had. It helped me prepare for going to a PWI and standing out from the crowd. 

While I still experience culture shock since the area and the weather are so different from what I’m used to in New Orleans, I’ve gotten used to most aspects of IWU campus with the exception of what conversations I’ve overheard among students on campus. Some comments have included: “IMPACT orientation shouldn’t have taken place because it excludes white people,” “There are only two genders and I’ll call people by the way they look,” and “You aren’t a masculine person because you don’t look mascluine nor like a man.” I know some people aren’t used to being exposed to diversity of sexuality, gender, and skin tone, but it is great to keep an opinion to yourself if you don’t have anything nice to say. But, I still appreciate the opportunity to study at such a good university and receive a quality education.