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Student Series: Why An HBCU Was Right For Me    

Student Series: Why An HBCU Was Right For Me

Art by FISK

By Aren Barnes

My sister, the annoying genius she is, understood well before me that attending Spelman was just what I needed. While I didn't want to admit it to myself, I needed an emotional timeout from the ongoing war that I and the entirety of the BIPOC spectrum have going on with white supremacy. 

These structures require so many of us to play so many roles as students. When we're in a classroom, we're in a million other places as well. We're sitting in the lecture, but we're also stuck in the conversation that the kid two seats over is having with their friend that is borderline racist. We're not sure if our interjection is worth the loss of time tuned out of class to point out the harm they are doing to BIPOC communities. We're hearing the white-washed version of whatever lecture our professor is teaching. We're also comparing it to what we know is true because our grandparents and our parents lived it, and our cousin two towns over is struggling with it as well. We have to be sure not to mix up our truth from what the whiteboard says so that we can pass the class. We're so many places and having so many conversations in our minds that we're often mistaken for zoning out. We're students, but asked of us or not, we wear so many hats in so many situations, and we lose so much time within the classroom because of it. As a teacher, or maybe even a fellow peer, you probably didn't notice because we're so good at holding our tongue – we wouldn't want to disturb the learning environment! It's very exhausting work. Doing this as one of the only Black students in a predominantly white school system for most of my life was so draining. Thus, all roads led to Spelman even though I fought against the suggestion that I was uncomfortable operating in the space I had grown up navigating.  

In my defense, trying to explain to someone who doesn't know Spelman, or what this specific HBCU can do for a young Black twenty-something girl trying to better the world, is nearly an impossible feat. It's hard to articulate what a privilege it is to be encouraged to participate in any conversation on campus. Visiting Spelman or being in a room full of its alumna is the only way to understand the magic that is Spelman College. I clearly didn't understand it at first, seeing how I ignored my sister's suggestion and chose to follow my athletic ambitions at the University of Washington for my freshman year of college in 2015. While I don't regret this decision, it did result in me taking two years off from school and volunteering in Flint, Michigan, during the Flint Water Crisis's peak (while also doing everything I could to get into Spelman). However, I am still not willing to admit that my sister might have been somewhat correct the first time. 

Further, my sister’s understanding of all the layers to this school says so much to me because she perfectly embodies what Spelman does. It always looks out for us. It fiercely supports us but gives us enough room to grow on our own. There are very few spaces in this country that have the welfare of Black women at the forefront of their minds at all times. Something as seemingly innocuous as the campus store carrying hair products that suit Black hair textures is profoundly important to someone who grew up with their local stores not stocking products for their hair. Spelman is the palate cleanser. The reprieve from everyday life that inarguably does not always encourage young Black women to speak our minds, to look how we wish to look, and not have our intelligence questioned. We can be as loud as we want or as quiet as we want without any interjection. Society is oppressive for most, but it is uniquely oppressive for Black women. At Spelman, we are not taught a curriculum that pushes us out of the narrative when it suits the majority yet relies on our participation. We're taught the truth. 

Since the protests began, I have regularly been asked what it was like to attend Spelman during the racial unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. I like to think of it and explain it like this: I was not okay in the slightest, but I was the most okay that I could have been because I was allowed to not be okay. I didn't have to explain anything to anyone at school because we all understood, and we were all allowed to not be okay until we were able to think again. And when we thought, we all understood that even though Breonna Taylor and many others like her haven't received justice, we will continue to learn, fight for them, and push each other to do all that we can. Even though school wasn't in session, an entire community was there. To have the ability to bounce ideas off of a whole student body, as opposed to just my three immediate family members, was a gift that I will never take for granted. I am so thankful to have this community, even though I regularly moan at my course load at any given moment of any given day.

I am so thankful and so truly blessed to be home, healthy and safe alongside my equally safe and healthy family members, but I catch myself missing campus more and more now that the weather is changing. I may be biased, but I genuinely think that there are few things better than running across campus—not on the grass, of course, because that is off-limits—during Spelman's humid summers, freezing winters, and torrential off-seasons. I cannot wait to have the chance to go back someday soon. Of course, it has its faults just like any other school, like the cafeteria's odd interpretation of what vegan and vegetarian food means and the Dean's irritating propensity to go on lunch break at the most inopportune time. However, my sister was still sickeningly correct in pointing out that Spelman is precisely where I needed to be.  

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.