‘It’s Traumatizing … To Be in These Spaces:’ Black Students Adjust to Whiteness of UNC

Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, Daily Tar Heel, February 28, 2018

At a University where only 38.7 percent of students are people of color, and only 7.8 percent self-identify as Black or African-American only, it is common for Black students to feel uncomfortable or targeted by microaggressions.

Senior Aaron Epps, president of The Black Student Movement, said Black students often struggle to adapt to the environment of predominantly white institutions like UNC, especially if they come from a majority Black community like he did.

“It’s just a different pool at UNC,” he said. “It’s hard to navigate a very, very inherently institutionalized white space.”

Having previously attended predominantly Black schools and a more diverse university before UNC, junior Alex Robinson said she felt out of place when she transferred to the University as a sophomore.

“All of the resources for transfer students and out-of-state (students) that focus more on social life, they’re very predominantly white as well,” she said. “It was really intimidating, because even in these spaces that were ‘geared toward me,’ they were very much so predominantly white, and honestly I was really uncomfortable.”

Robinson said at Carolina she sometimes finds herself being the only Black person in the room, and therefore she feels the obligation to constantly be a representative for her race.

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Epps said predominantly white institutions like UNC are not seeing the same type of enrollment boost because students of color feel more welcome at HBCUs.

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Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions, said the University has been improving its efforts to help improve the retention rate of Black students at UNC.

“We admit them because we believe that they can thrive and we believe that they will thrive, and we believe that they will make it possible for other students to thrive by their being here,” Farmer said. {snip}

Some students said they found refuge in student organizations because of the isolation they face among the ubiquity of whiteness at the University. BSM, the Organization For African Students’ Interests And Solidarity and Men of Color Gatherings aim to foster a welcoming environment for Black students.

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Chris Faison, the coordinator for UNC Men of Color Engagement in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling, said it’s important to have programs like the Barbershop Talk, hosted by Carolina Mxle Scholars, and Carolina Housing, where students of color can be themselves and not be judged. But, he said it can be positive in some cases for students of color to be surrounded by white students.

“At Carolina, the environment is helpful to students that come from minority-majority backgrounds because the world is different than what we grew up in, although we may feel isolated, or students may feel isolated, it’s a taste of what the world is like,” he said.

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