I am a sophomore RA (Resident Advisor) at Syracuse University. When I first entered my freshman year, I was ready to pack my bags and head to an HBCU. I have since had my ups with this university, but I wouldn't still be here if I didn't grow to ultimately love my Alma Mater. For those who don't know, Orangeman Ernie Davis was the first Black player to win the NCAA football Heisman Trophy decades ago. I feel like so many issues he faced in the movie about him "The Express" are still prevalent on this campus and other PWI's (Predominately White Institution).
I was born and raised in
Denver, Colorado, so I have encountered my share of race-related
conversations and scenarios. When I was in grade school, my mother told
me to say "And liberty and justice for SOME," during the Pledge of
Allegiance, so you can imagine what type of upbringing I had. I'm used
to ignorant comments, being followed in stores, white women clutching
purses, and getting the ‘Please don’t rape me smile’ ect. I have
already started my career, landing a different great job in my major,
so I have experienced racism in the workplace as well. I have always
been vocal about these issues. However, I'm sure many of you know some
bias-related incidents stay with you forever.
As an RA, I
supervise other students in my dormitory. I help encourage a healthy,
fun community, and enforce university policies. It can be a very
enjoyable position; I facilitate floor and building-wide programs,
mentor residents, and I am a true leader in my dorm. You can often see
me heading groups of students to campus events, or decorating our
building. I had my share of incidents last fall as the only Black male
RA in my dorm, but never would I have thought I would be discriminated
against like the way I was right before winter break.
RA's do room checks for prohibited items and safety inspections. We are
not allowed to check the floors we live on because some people may let
things like underage alcohol possession slide if they're found in their
own residents' rooms. Anyway, I ended up being paired to do room checks
with a white RA that I'll call "Vicky." Becoming an RA is an extremely
competitive process, and being one requires excellence in many areas on
top of school work. So, I was getting an "Oh, you're an RA??" type of
vibe from some white students when we knocked on their doors. I’ve
noticed many whites have problems with Black authority. Although, a lot
of them recognized me from the work I do in my building and around
campus. Then came room 212.
I knocked three times. No answer.
"RA's, coming in," I announced. The students were warned in advance
that we were doing checks and had master-keys to let ourselves in if
they weren't home. I got the key ready, but the door was unlocked.
Vicky and I entered the room to do a quick search. We don't touch
things or look under beds like police officers. Since there were no
major violations, I opened the door, stood in the doorway, and waited
for Vicky to finish the inspection form for the room. Things quickly
turned from routine, to chaotic.
I heard the door across from
the room I was in creak open. I turned around, and looked into the eyes
of a white girl. Her pupils dilated, her mouth opened, and her vocal
chords screeched. Later, I found her name is Lauren. She screamed at
the top of her lungs, and began running away from me down the hallway.
I thought to myself, "Really!? Wow!" She ran a good 20 yards down the
hall, still yelling for dear life. Who did she think I was? A burglar?
A "Syracuse Townie?” Maybe all the vague, unhelpful, racist email
propaganda that the SU police send out when there is crime on campus
got her scared: “Black male, 6 ft, dark hoodie. If you have any
information that may help catch the perpetrator, please contact
Syracuse police.” People were opening their doors, investigating the
movie-like scene she caused.
Vicky came out of the room, and
yelled "Hey! It's OK, we're RA's!" Lauren stopped, and turned around.
Another white girl came out of the room that Lauren did. It turns out
she was the resident of the empty room we had been checking. Later, I
asked myself "Why would she scream if it wasn't even her room?" Keep in
mind, to even get into the building during the hour this happened you
need a valid SU ID with the specific sticker for your dorm unless
someone who lives there signs you in. It was also a room for two
people, so couldn't I have just been a friend of the girls who actually
lived there? Lauren slowly walked back with an embarrassed smirk. I
watched her blush as she avoided eye contact. I was going to ask "Why?"
but I already knew the answer. I thought maybe she would at least have
had the decency to apologize and try to explain her actions. But no,
she let out an awkward laugh and looked at her friend. I glared at her,
I thought, "Should I go in on this racist trash?”
You know, give her a piece of my mind? Maybe say something witty like
'I know society treats you like you’re a hot commodity that I’m
supposed to thirst for, but don’t flatter yourself’ or 'You don't have
anything worth stealing anyways.’ But I knew that wouldn't do anything.
Vicky didn't acknowledge what had just happened, and I'm still not sure
if she fully understood the situation. In a job where you live where
you work, you expect your team to be there for you. I thought she might
ask how I was doing or that she felt bad for what I had experienced.
But, she just wanted to continue doing rounds.
I knew that this
scenario could only happen to me, and not any other RA in my dorm. When
that white woman saw a six-foot Black man with jet-black skin, her
prejudices erupted. Going off on her would've only made it worse, so I
felt there was a better way to handle it. I hoped that she felt
shameful for her actions, and to make sure that she did, I reported it
to the university as a bias-related incident. Not only was I distraught
about the situation, but my mentors encouraged me to document this case
of discrimination because if it happens again, no one can say it was an
isolated or unusual event. People should know what type of students go
to my university, and especially the struggle of being an African
resident advisor at a PWI.
I also felt my supervisor should be
aware of the issue. I'll call my white female Residence Director "Jay."
Now Jay is a generally helpful and empathetic person. I had discussed
similar issues when some other RA's on my staff said some ignorant
comments. She understands things like white privilege, but in my
experience, many white people can't (or don't try to) grasp more
advanced levels of racial issues. I began, "This white girl…" and I saw
her eyes roll. I don't believe it was because she was trying to be
malicious, or because she didn't care. I think it was more because I
was once again in a position that reminded her of how racist this world
is and she would be forced to deal. After detailing the incident, she
admitted she had no solutions. This was disheartening because I believe
that in America today, and especially on this campus, people work
diligently to protect certain identities more than ethnicity. In light
of the recent string of suicides members of the LGTBQ community have
committed, many have paid special attention to safeguard this identity.
Jay's advice to me was "Next time you do room checks, wear your
RA t-shirt." I almost heard tires screeching inside of my head. I was
appalled that she had the audacity to tell me that I should wear a
shirt that identifies me as an RA to make myself look less threatening.
Why should I have to wear the shirt when no one else has to? Syracuse
University has several resources on campus like the Office of
Multicultural Affairs and she has supervisors that can assist her with
tough issues. She also knows I'm on the E-Board for a group called
Underrepresented RA's United which pairs us with Residence Directors of
color as mentors. If she really cared, wouldn't she have reached out to
someone to help me with what I was dealing with? What if I had been
discriminated against due to my religion or sexuality--would she have
handled it differently?
After speaking with other
professionals in the department, they showed me how badly Jay dropped
the ball. She should’ve at least encouraged me to report the incident
to the university, sat Lauren down, and explained to her how severe her
discriminatory acts were. I guess the ‘No Place For Hate’ campaign is
as superficial as ‘Celebrating Diversity.’ The most disturbing aspect
was how Jay took accountability and blame for the event away from
Lauren’s bigotry and put it all on me when I was just doing my job.
Furthermore, I face the harsh reality that the incident could have
happened with any of the white girls on my floor if I wasn't their RA.
love my school for the academics, athletics, spotlight and
opportunities. It truly is a special university. Being here has helped
shape me as a person, and as a man. However, each semester, I learn
something very disturbing about being a Black man in this country.
First, I learned that the further you go up the ladder, the more people
and roadblocks there are to bring you down. Second, that white people
can never fully comprehend the racist system they collectively fuel.
And most recently, no matter what I do, no matter how I dress (usually
in collared shirts), no matter what my education is, even if I am a
leader in a safe college environment, some people are always going to
view me in a stigmatic way. With this confirmation, I am only more
dangerous to this white supremacist system. In the words of Nas, "They
don't know if I'm going to rob them, or if I'm Russell Simmons."
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