Experiences of Black Freshmen
By: Ayanna Hunter
Last week, I confessed to a friend of mine that going to school at Stony Brook University (SBU) was like viewing this huge friend group that would never let me get too close. As a recent college freshman, I will be honest, I had a specific vision for what I wanted my college experience to be like. I will be even more honest and state that Stony Brook has not yet met my expectations. Now, there are a few things that I am in control of like, my participation in Stony Brook’s activities, the actions I take to make friends, and the effort I put into my schoolwork. Since the start of my journey here at SBU, I have made it my most imperative mission to be more extroverted than I have ever been. I joined clubs, I made the first move to say hello, and I smiled so hard at my teachers, that it almost became permanent. However, in my efforts to be more outgoing, I did not account for one uncontrollable factor. I am black in a predominantly non-black space. At this time I want to clarify and say that it is the microaggressions I have experienced, not more obvious acts of hatred and contempt, that have made me feel like a silent viewer rather than an active college student. In my ideal situation, my race does not and should not hold a great deal of power in the interactions I have with others. But to my shock, it has. This shock felt more than painful. I felt betrayed that the fantasies I was told of what my college life would be like did not match up with my reality. These feelings woke a curiosity in me born from a desire to know if I was the only one. Did any other black freshman feel too different? Did any other black freshman have their expectations crushed? More optimistically, were there black freshmen who were enjoying their experience at Stony Brook University? I interviewed a few students to find out.
Can you please say your name, major, and year?
Hi, my name is Jaida Palmer, I’m a freshman and my major is political science.
How would you describe your experience as a new student at Stony Brook so far?
I would describe my experience as not the best. It’s been really hard to transition, coming from a place that was more city-like to a really small college town. Also, being black in a PWI (Predominately White Institution) is a bit challenging. I do think there should be more resources for us in the black community here, but it is a PWI so I’m not really expecting much from it. I would just say when you come here just keep in mind you are coming to a PWI and the struggles that can come with it.
What are some of the struggles you are facing right now?
I think some of the struggles I face… I wouldn’t say I face outright racism, but I have definitely come across some microaggressions with actions and words. I think if you’re coming to a PWI, definitely expect that. You’re gonna get some microaggressions from people. This is not as serious, but I have struggled with the food. Here [seasoning] is a little bit lacking. I struggle with accessibility to hair products. Even that. Sometimes it’s a struggle to get off the campus because the buses run so not frequently. So, that’s a struggle for me too. I’ve struggled with not finding a black community on campus, but there have been times when I thought I found black friends or even people who I’ve been interested in in a romantic sense, but they were not really down for [to date] black people.
How has that made you feel?
It’s made me feel kind of isolated and it’s kind of made me question if I really wanna stay here for the next 3 or 4 years. Right now I’m just trying to stick it out because I don’t have the ability to transfer until this spring semester ends. But, it’s definitely made me question if I really want to spend the next 3, or 4, years here and if it’s really worth it.
How is your experience connecting with your roommate?
My experience connecting with my roommate, I mean, me and my roommate have been friends for a long time, since middle school so it really hasn’t been that bad. She’s also black too so it’s easy to relate with her on certain things, well most things. So it really hasn’t been that bad, but I’m happy I did definitely find a black roommate because I think I would have struggled a little bit more or it definitely would have been a bit more awkward had it not been somebody who was black or knew the black experience.
With other members on your floor, what is that like?
I think that sometimes it can be a little uncomfortable. There’ll be times where I’ll come out in my bonnet or my hair is not the best looking and I do kind of get a side eye or a little look and [I feel like], you should really just treat me like anybody else. Yes, we might have different routines or different ways of things, but we’re all human at the end of the day and if I come out in my bonnet, I’m just trying to protect my hair. That’s all I’m trying to do.
How has the presence of cultural clubs on campus made you feel?
I mean I’m happy that we even have black organizations on campus because we don’t make up that much percentage on this campus already, so it’s good that when I do, when I can, I can find a community on campus.
Can you please state your major and year?
I’m a freshman and an astronomy major.
How would you describe your experience so far at Stony?
I’d say it’s a very weird experience, I’m still used to being in high school, but now I’m like here where a lot of the people I remember are not here. Only a slight minority of those people are here now… In high school right, I always felt like everybody was looking at me weirdly, but now here, no one’s making a big deal out of it and it’s like, I like that but at the same time it’s a little hard to get used to the whole no one cares attitude. It’s a bit nice and also a bit annoying to deal with. I have sometimes felt a bit isolated here because it’s like, I’m living with all the queer people in GIH and it’s like we’re all shunted off to a completely different area. And even in GIH, I feel like I’m the only one that looks like me there. The majority of them are East Asian or just straight-up white and it’s like I’m the only [one of my race] there… I can’t even join any of my cultural groups that relate to my ethnicity because I’m worried, there are some people that I know on campus, but they don’t know that I’m trans. So, if I join them, I don’t know what might happen, if they might tell my family and stuff. So it’s a bit of a mix of, it’s relaxing and also really stressful.
If you could sum up your experience being on campus/forming as a freshman in one word, how would you do that?
Confusing. A lot is going on and I’m just standing in the middle thinking, what?
What do you think could be done by other students or by faculty and administration that could make your experience on campus less confusing?
I think people can just be a lot more open-minded. It’s crazy to me that people come to college, yet somehow stay ridiculously close-minded which then makes it more annoying to have to deal with said person. Sometimes I run into people and I’m thinking, oh these are nice people, and then they say something so microaggressive or just straight-up racist and it’s like, how and why did you think that? People really just gotta understand, what would someone who isn’t me think about what I’m saying, cause a lot of people can’t think about anyone who isn’t themselves.
Student #3: Anaya Jagun
How has your experience been as a freshman so far?
I would say compared to what I hear my friends going through at other schools, it’s kind of better because I was in EOP so I met most of my friends through the summer program so now I have a community around me. So, I’m not having to go through that awkward part of making friends because we’re kind of all forced to be friends.
How has BSU impacted your experience?
It let me know that there were a lot more black people than I thought on this campus because I feel like when I came here originally thinking we were gonna be a lot. Not a lot, but there were gonna be a couple of sparse people you will see every now and then. But, now I see black people almost every day. It’s like at home, kind of.
How has BSU made you feel?
With BSU, everyone’s being candid about how they feel about the situations going on, especially going to school here where it’s not really for us, but we are here. So, it helps with that feeling.
Could you explain more about that feeling?
You know how right-handed people have right-handed scissors, but there are not a lot of left-handed scissors. So, basically, being black on the Stony Brook campus is being left-handed and using right-handed scissors. Like, you’re using it, but it’s not really meant or designed for you to use. It’s meant for other people to benefit from. So, you’re kind of awkwardly stumbling through using it.
Have you had any experiences at Stony that have made you feel you weren’t welcome here?
Kind of. In some of my classes, when I say stuff or have takes on things going on in class because I use more colloquial language, sometimes it’s not taken as seriously. But when other students say the same thing, but I guess in a more, “proper” way, it gets more regarded with the professors.
Outside of class, have you had any other experiences like that?
Sometimes when I’m walking around campus, people kind of look at me like what am I doing here. I’m doing the same thing you’re doing here; paying my tuition.
Do you think you’ve found a community here at Stony?
I really do believe I have.
How would you say your experience in connecting with other people has been?
It’s been good. I think it’s mainly because of EOP so I was able to make friends there. Besides that, I just stay to myself.
Do you think that joining clubs would make a difference in your experience?
I guess yeah. It’s a good way of building connections, but yeah, I think I should give it a try.
Specifically as a black freshman, how has your experience been?
It’s been good. I get faces there and then, but I don’t really mind. I’m kind of used to it. Before college, I already dealt with issues like that, especially as a big black man.
Can you further explain that a bit, if you feel comfortable?
I mean, obviously, I’m big, I’m black. Obviously, I’m going to get faces. I’m going to get viewed… Everyone has a perspective of who I am already without even talking to me.
How has that made you feel?
Honestly, again, I’m used to it. Before, it used to make me feel some type of way. I used to get negative emotions from it, but as time passed, I just got used to it. That’s how society is.
Do you think EOP or connecting with people who look like you here makes a difference in your experience?
It shows me that I’m not alone. It shows me that other people are experiencing the same thing. I see them pushing forward through that and I’m doing the same.
How has your experience with administration been?
It’s been good. I’m just building connections with them; communicating. If I’m having any issues, I just reach out to them.
P.S. Justin Crisanto is a rapper. Check him out on Instagram at theyluvbu.ba2x_
After my interviews, I realized that the issues I have been experiencing at SBU were a lot more common. I was not the only one. I was one of many. Although I feel seen in the experiences of other freshmen like me, I want better for us. As a school that prides itself on diversity and inclusivity, our SBU community needs to do a better job of creating a welcoming environment where all students can be their best selves, rather than promoting small messages that communicate that some students are more valuable than others. My interview process was enlightening and I am glad I was able to provide a space where black and brown freshmen can voice their experiences