Gearing Up for Year Two of my PWI Experience

It is coming to be that time once again. I’m currently in the midst of finals for my second summer session, and I am absolutely longing for the two week break I have before I will begin my sophomore year at Duke. Everyone has been asking the very tiring question “Are you excited to return to school?” And I have a few things to say, as my thoughts are slightly more nuanced than a simple yes or no.

On the affirmative side, I am very much looking forward to the new school year. I feel like I know what I want to do, career wise, I’m settling down on a major (and a minor and maybe a certificate. I’m a nerd), and I know that I have a group on friends and my significant other to keep me going. And there is band, of course, but I’m not looking forward to the brutality that is band camp that will be coming.

I came to Duke because I loved the closeness of the black community, and I could see myself fitting in, something I have never ever done in any of my schools. Going through freshman year, it was something I have never seen before. Black nerds were everywhere, and I was far from being the only black girl on campus. It felt like some kind of dream. Being accepted into Duke was one miracle, but being accepted into the black community was something that warmed me completely.

Coming to a PWI (Primarily White Institution) was something familiar to me. Never once have I been somewhere where I have been the majority demographic (perhaps grad school), but it never has bothered me to the point of absolute hate. Now, I don’t hate Duke, at least not to a crazy extent. Duke is knowing that nobody will judge you for turning down going out to have a study night in and actually studying.  Duke is having our exciting football games where we get to show the pride that collectively keep us motivated. Duke is knowing that nobody will ever judge you for quoting the dictionary, or having a bookshelf filled with research books. Duke is knowing that while everyone outside of it hates you, you still love yourself and the institution that you belong.

However, being at Duke as a person of color, specifically a black person, is extremely taxing. There’s still the need to code switch, and “act white.” What you wear is especially important, and you will be judged twice as hard. The black affiliated groups are constantly under fire for not putting up with racism. It’s having professors tell you that students of your background are more likely to fail.

This spring, when we heard of a black student being taunted with the SAE chant one night by drunken fraternity guys, we were enraged. We were even more enraged, and certainly not surprised when nothing disciplinary came of it. When the noose was hung on the first of April, and we were greeted by a “forum” in which the president decided to answer nobody’s questions and concerns with the safety of black students, we were not surprised. We knew that he never intended on doing anything on that forum besides saving his own ass. When they claimed that the student who did it was unaware of the significance and meant it as a joke, and the black community faced countless cyber bullying from it, we were numb. We knew that this would come, we knew that nobody of power would say anything. We knew that as black students, our voices and our well-being in this institution were not valued and not wanted.

Being at Duke is a constant struggle. There are times when I feel so close to the community and feel so together with everyone, and I have nothing but love for the university I have chosen to attend. But there are also times when I feel so broken, so undesired, at this school who vowed to focus on the well-being and the excellence of all students at this school.

If I had known anything of this when deciding, would I have taken this path once again? As surprising as it is, my answer would probably be yes. Coming to Duke was not solely a social choice, and I know that it’s not all about what people say. Duke gave me the best financial aid package, and it got me out of danger. The black community here is something that I cherish and will remember long after I’m gone.

But there is still so much to do. Duke is far from perfect in many aspect. I would have very much like to have seen Duke stand up for the black community, and other communities (that’s a different story that I will discuss later). I love Duke for the community, but there is so much that needs to be done. We cannot have a harmony in a PWI without addressing the underlying ignorance and hate that comes with it.

So am I looking forward to coming back to school? I am, but I’m even more looking forward to making a change on this campus that will last after I leave.


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