As a child and teenager, I grew up frequenting the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Winston-Salem State University and North Carolina A&T State University were within 30 minutes of my house. I spent a lot of time at North Carolina Central University, the college where my aunt received her education.
I attended many football games and homecomings on the respective campuses. I went to events. I experienced the camaraderie, black excellence and culture every time I was there walking the paths that those who had paved the way traveled.
So, it came as a surprise to some in 1999 when it was time for me to decide where I wanted to further my education. I had a list of three schools and none of them were HBCUs. Although I loved everything about the black college experience, I wanted to go a different route. This made perfect sense to me.
I had a little bit of a “been there, done that” mentality. Rising inside of me was a desire to go to a school that wasn’t as familiar. As I’m writing this, if I recall correctly, I didn’t visit what would eventually become my alma mater at all before choosing it as my number one.
Arriving at North Carolina State University was far from a shock, as far as diversity was concerned. I had attended a high school that boasted 23 nationalities. While NC State is a predominantly white school, the number of minorities attending was in the thousands due to a large enrollment. Therefore, isolation, for me was non-existent.
I enjoyed everything about my time at NC State.
I made lifelong friends, created memories to last a lifetime and received an education that continues to produce continuous benefits. All of this occurred while remaining cognizant of the fact that most of my fellow students didn’t share the same skin tone as me.
It was never overlooked by others or me that we were the minority at a college that boasted over 30,000 students. There were reminders of this fact – classes where I was the only black student, meetings where I was the only black person in attendance and bus rides where I was the only black passenger.
For as striking as this reality was, I didn’t give it much thought until I started writing this article. I realize there were times when I was in an isolated environment. However, I never felt like I was alone.
As a black woman, I believe in the importance of being connected to people who look like you especially in spaces where many people don’t. At NC State I was a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (nope, I wasn’t an engineering major, but I was the public relations chair) as well as the Black Students Board. These organizations were instrumental in creating a setting where I felt accepted, loved and appreciated. While we remained few, in terms of the number of students enrolled, the bond we developed was undeniable. We had our own college within a college.
We supported one another, uplifted one another, corrected one another, tutored one another, mentored one another and had epic water gun fights. Daily, we were committed to building our community to ensure the next generation was able to step onto a foundation that was rooted in pushing us forward.
In a time where access to information and public opinion is readily at your fingertips, it’s imperative for predominantly white institutions to continue to cultivate and embrace spaces that allow minority students to connect with fellow minorities while accepting them into the larger body. And it’s even more important for minorities to be able to connect with those in their ethnic group.
I hope those that have decision making power will continue to keep this in mind as we progress forward.
Kassaundra Shanette Lockhart is a freelance writer.