Being black at Mr. Jefferson’s University
Following a recent racist slur painted on Beta Bridge, a student reflects on her experience
When I was asked to “reflect on my time being black at U.Va.” I was somewhat honored but also offended. Honored to articulate the real black experience at U.Va. but also offended that my reflections as a black woman has been limited to commentary on race. Nevertheless, I aim to provide a factual account of my experiences here at Mr. Jefferson’s University, as a student, as a woman, as an African American and above all else as a human being.
First and foremost, I have always been aware of my ethnic and racial background, but I must admit that during my stay at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities, my “blackness” never went unnoticed. I was frequently reminded that I was black, that I was “other;” that I did not belong. I was reminded in class when professors covered race and all my classmates looked to me, the black girl, for a response; I was reminded when I traveled to Rugby Road and was denied access to parties simply because “[I] did not know a brother;” I was reminded when people asked if I was a member of the basketball team; I was reminded when professors assigned group work and only people who looked like me were left without partners; I was reminded when I traveled outside of the U.Va. community, wearing paraphernalia, and strangers assumed that I was a U.Va. fan instead of a U.Va. student; I was reminded when white classmates felt obligated to address me as “Hey Shawty” or overemphasized their fascination with “hood jams;” I was reminded when my opinions and expressions were restricted to those surrounding race.
Despite such unsettling occurrences, I would be insincere to insinuate that all of my experiences at U.Va. were unpleasant. These were some of the most gratifying years of my life, many of which I will cherish forever. During my stay, I have met remarkable people from diverse cultures and gained unprecedented levels of knowledge and awareness, both intellectual and political. Much of this I owe to those within the African-American studies program, to whom I express a great deal of love, gratitude and appreciation. While you all first made me aware of the “veil,” Mr. Jefferson’s University reminded me day after day of what it feels like to wear the “veil.” The veil of blackness, one in which everyone sees but no one quite understands.
In conclusion, I hope my reflections are not discouraging to future black students but instead an inspiration. Throughout American history we have been the targets of oppression whether directly or indirectly, we have always been and still are the most marginalized group of people in America. Although we have accomplished a lot since the first black student was admitted, we have not accomplished enough. We are still the victims of policing, racial profiling, discrimination and oppression. We cannot allow the success of a few to obscure the inequalities and injustices still facing others. We cannot continue to pretend to be “post-racial” when NIGGER decorates Beta Bridge. Historically, we have been faced with tremendous challenges and hardships. Yet, even in the face of defeat, we have time and time again proved impermeable. We have always risen to the occasion and trounced any obstacles that stood in our way. This time is no different.
Adair Hodge is a graduate student in the Batten School.