The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Monday, March 4, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Congratulations! If you are a freshman, you have survived your first two days of college.

But if you are an African-American, you have also survived two days of accounting for only 9 percent of your class.

If you got lost or walked around with a map on your phone like I did, don’t worry. In a month or so, you’ll be a pro at making it to your 8 a.m. in 10 minutes. All of your hard work throughout high school has prepared you to succeed here.

You might not, however, have been prepared for the racial dynamics here at UNC.

Certain burdens accompany being a minority at a predominantly white institution.

With such a small number of African-American students, there is an unspoken pressure to join cultural organizations.

When I arrived on campus, I saw the Black Student Movement as one of the only opportunities for me to meet and connect with other African-American students on campus.

When I saw other African-American students on campus who weren’t involved with BSM, I was surprised. I’m embarrassed to say, but I equated membership in BSM to students’ feelings toward African-Americans in general.

I thought every African-American person was a member of BSM. Why wouldn’t they be? With such a small number of “us,” wouldn’t you want to be in it?

Looking back, I see that a part of me valued the concept of an organization that was founded exclusively for the celebration of my culture over individual interests.

I love BSM, its members and what it stands for. But it’s not for everybody.

Membership in the Black Student Movement and other cultural groups is not required just because you fit the presumed criteria.

In fact, solely being involved in cultural organizations can limit your experience at UNC.

There is a balance between celebrating cultures and expanding boundaries; the beauty of UNC is that it gives you opportunities to do both.

It can seem unappealing, though, especially if you find yourself being the only African-American person in academic environments, which happens often.

I remember being acutely aware I was the only African-American person in my English 105 class. I love writing because I use it as a tool to express myself and explore my identity.

In my English class, however, I was nervous about how I could. I used each project as an opportunity to illuminate a different aspect of my life as an African-American woman.

There were times, though, that I felt pressure to speak on behalf of my culture.

You are not a brand ambassador.

In class, your peers may expect to answer “Black questions” and respond to “Black issues” — but it’s not your responsibility.

Your peers are smart and capable enough to learn on their own whether they choose to or not. Focus on being yourself, not your race.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

With love,

One of 11 percent.