By Donovan Hayden ’19
This piece was conducted as an in-person interview with a single question asked: “What has been your experience at HWS as a person of color?” The student’s response was transcribed and approved by the interviewee prior to publication.
In terms of my experience as a black person on campus, it’s been through a lot of changes throughout my four years. In terms of when I first came to school, it was really a big sense of powerlessness that I wasn’t used to and also was just confusing and contradictory cause I was so involved on campus and I had so many connections and I was doing so well academically and on paper I was doing what I needed to do.
But yet, in my first year I was friends with mostly white students, but then as soon as we got outside the classroom, as soon as we actually got off the paper and in real life they had so many more privileges so much more access to this campus that I didn’t in terms of, just even in ways that they sat down in Saga. They didn’t worry about where they were sitting, well they didn’t as long as it was on the first tier, right? They moved through this campus in a way that… not looking over their shoulder like I was and every place on this campus to them whether they consciously thought about it or not was their home. And there were places I definitely felt at home here, but it was definitely not every place on campus. So that was, in my first year that was the big thing.
And then even in like my sophomore it was really thinking that “I’m going to challenge and change these systems” right? And just being totally discouraged by that and even in the fraternity I brought up issues of race, I brought up those issues, and they were addressed, but it’s like every single time I have to fix it and there’s no one else to fix it.
At first I was okay with that labor but at one point I was like “no” especially when I’m looking at this is actually only benefitting black men. This is not benefiting black people, black women, black queer people so I mean for me I think in terms of this experience on campus it is that contradiction of how many black students I know and how many students of color I know that are really doing good things on this campus and have their names everywhere and still those students don’t feel fully at home here, fully comfortable, have full agency over this space. And the people who literally just hang out – it’s their world and that’s the part that infuriates me and gets me so angry and gets me sad and makes me feel so discouraged.
And in terms of where I’m at now I guess…there is a growing apathy that is happening amongst students of color where it’s just this school will never listen, this school wasn’t meant for me and the only thing I can get out of this is a degree and some connections and maybe some people that are cool to talk to, but I don’t care to change this place and I’ve gotten some pushback myself that “Oh you still believe that we can make this place diverse and inclusive,” and I do, but I also understand how a lot of these students are just like, “I don’t care to do that like I’m here and I will suffer through these four years and I will get my degree and I will leave.” And the sad part, especially when I talk to underclassmen is what they don’t realize is a lot of those students they don’t come back. I knew so many students of color, especially queer students of color, especially women who just, they disappear, I mean they don’t disappear they transfer, they left or they dropped out right?
So it is easy to say I’ll struggle through it but once you get to that sophomore year or that junior year it’s a heavy toll and I think that’s the big thing I would say is that I do believe that this campus will always be white dominated, there will always be racist elements in it even in the institution, but for me it is important to call on the people who are supposed to be responsible to serve, people that are supposed to serve the student body because whether they like me or not they have signed on to do a job to keep the students here safe to keep the students here prosperous so if they’re not doing their job it’s important for us to call them out on it and acknowledge that those systems may still exist but I don’t have to walk around this place constantly feeling this cloud that is always following me and have buildings and places and people that I have to actively avoid where I go and I just don’t feel safe, that shouldn’t be a part of it.