An update from A’Rielle, an accounting major and ethnic studies minor:
I often have told my friends that I want to participate in some kind of exchange program at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). HBCUs are known for their history, communal experience, rich learning environment, and of course, Greek life.
I am truly fascinated by HBCUs since I’ve had family members attend these institutions and my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, was founded on one.
On day four of the Pilgrimage, we stopped at Alabama State University for lunch. Being surrounded by so many students who looked like me was very different, but equally amazing. I especially was interested in the reactions from students who had never been to an HBCU, or heard of one for that matter. Many of the students expressed feelings of discomfort, stemming from “the stares” received when we stepped into the cafeteria, which may have been because a large group of people, many of them in SMU gear, walked in at lunch time without swiping a meal card!
During reflections the following day, a student expressed that from this rare experience as the minority, he could imagine how black students must have felt during the Movement. A few of us interjected, “The MOVEMENT? That’s how WE feel at SMU EVERYDAY!” After we finished laughing at the irony, Ray stated that when we’re in situations where we feel uncomfortable or uninformed, we should seek to engage in dialogue to gain understanding.
By the time we arrived at Tuskegee University (another HBCU), pilgrims were prepared to learn more about the black college experience. Tuskegee is definitely one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever seen! After ordering smoothies at Tuskegee’s Jazzman’s Cafe and relaxing on the patio of the student union, a few of us set off to explore. As we journeyed around the spacious campus, students and staff excitedly ran over to our group to introduce themselves, ask how far we had traveled and personally welcomed us to Tuskegee. In the main quad area, standing around the steps with current students talking about our majors, hometowns, and the awesomeness known as snow days, I observed those original feelings of exclusion and discomfort quickly withering away. I was mostly struck by the importance of and emphasis on community. One of the guys joked about the fact that everybody knows everybody on campus, and just a few seconds later, introduced us to two more students who happened to walk by!
By immersing into the campus life and conversing with students, that afternoon many of the pilgrims were able to clear up any misconceptions about HBCUs. This trip continues to jerk us out of our comfort zones, and I’m enjoying every second of it! Visiting both ASU and Tuskegee was especially moving for me since I was able to interact with current students as well as alumni that were active in the Movement. Those college students were the hope for their generation, just as we are for ours.