Feb. 1 marked the beginning of Black History Month. In the beginning of February, Meredith College made an informational Instagram post about the origins of the month and where people could learn more about it. While I understand the intention of the post was to provide support, my experience at this institution does not make me feel that way. My college experience has never been a normal one. The paradoxical relationship between my love and criticism for the institution is not fully understood, especially by those with different experiences.
My decision to come to Meredith was influenced by a number of factors, with race being at the forefront. I didn’t choose a historically Black college or university (HBCU) because they didn’t offer programs I was interested in—often due to a lack of funding and support. While many of the predominantly white institutions (PWI) that I looked at did, they lacked something of equal importance—a supportive social environment. I knew that my identity would play a significant role in my experience at both institutions. At an HBCU, I felt they would recognize the barriers I faced as a Black person in and outside of higher education. At a PWI, I feared that I would constantly have to fight for my barriers to be addressed.
I was cognizant of this during my college search process. But Meredith, a PWI, sold me a campus that welcomed my presence. At admissions events, current students seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me. Counselors told me about the vibrant student life and the traditions that brought students together. My primary reason for attending Meredith were the academic opportunities, but it was nice knowing that I had the option to be included in social events.
But when I arrived at StartStrong, this changed. I was the only Black student in my group and no one spoke to me, including my student guides. Students rolled their eyes during icebreakers and refused to sit near me during informational sessions. The exclusion extended well into the academic year. Few students spoke to me in my classes. Cornhuskin’, a tradition touted for its class unity, was marked by students who intentionally ignored me and other Black students. I tried my best to continue participating in hopes of a positive change. It didn’t take long for other Black students in our class to stop attending all social events, and I soon followed suit.
I was fortunate enough to have professors that made me feel welcomed, but I heard several stories of ones who did not welcome others. Stories of professors who intentionally ignored Black students or made comments about sensitive topics like police brutality circulated. This made me wary of taking classes with new professors, fearing that I would have similar problems. In my time here I have been able to find Black faculty and staff members that I trust, but many of them have since left. Towards the end of my first semester, I felt betrayed. I was promised a campus environment that was accepting of who I was, but I received one that made me feel ashamed of it.
Meredith has a pattern of ignoring Black students’ experiences on and off campus. In the summer of 2020, during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, President Jo Allen sent a campus-wide email about Meredith’s “time of civil unrest.” Like many Black people, Black Lives Matter was about more than a moment for me—it was my life. Vague acknowledgements of these problems weren’t new to me, and it isn’t uncommon for predominantly white spaces to speak nonchalantly about issues that don’t impact most of their communities. Community-wide pushback led by our Black Student Union prompted a followup statement of apology that referenced Black Lives Matter by name. This statement was a glimpse of how leadership at Meredith often treats Black students.
Being Black at Meredith comes with a price. Meredith has never truly acknowledged my experience for what it is. Positive aspects of my story—mainly my academic successes—are tokenized as a way to persuade potential students to campus. The negative aspects of my story are overlooked or downplayed so as to not disrupt the experience they sell to other students.
Many times I have been tasked with solving issues I did not create. Black students are called on by committees and faculty groups to provide input on antiracist initiatives the college has undertaken. However, it is difficult to find comfort in these initiatives when rejection or criticism of my experiences feel like an invalidation. Our opinions about the lack of diversity on campus or inconsistencies in how rules are applied come from personal experience.
Meredith still has a long way to go supporting Black students on campus. There shouldn’t be such stark contrast in how someone is treated as a prospective student versus an enrolled one. We are forced to give up so much when coming to college. The problem can’t be relegated to a single department or area of student life—it’s a campus-wide issue.
By Aminah Jenkins, Associate Editor