My Black Experience at Illinois
Before I enrolled, I wondered this: What will it be like to be a Black student at the University of Illinois? I pictured myself joining every organization and club focused on empowerment, performing in Black Chorus, going Greek, and doing whatever else I could to explore what it means to be Black. I had hoped that my college experience would be saturated with the feelings I got from watching the show, “A Different World.” I was stuck on the idea and image of my favorite TV show. When I got here, I realized that being a Black college student was different from what I expected.
Sometimes, as a Black student, the only other Black people I see in a day are those I pass on the quad or on the street. I’ve been in classes where I was the only Black student. I quickly had to come to terms with the fact that University of Illinois is far from a historically Black college or university (HBCU). It was a hard reality to face. Once I understood this, I started to understand and appreciate my own Black experience here. I also was able to identify the resources available to help me through this new time in my life.
Although Illinois is not an HBCU, there is still a vibrant Black community presence here. It is a privilege to be able to attend this university because of this vibrant community. This is a community that never allows anything to get in the way of the culture and the honesty of being the truest versions of ourselves. There are brothers and sisters here from all walks of life with all kinds of gifts and talents. You have your scholars, poets, leaders, preachers, teachers, activists, scientists, engineers, business women and men, lawyers, doctors, artists, and more. There are so many different aspects of Black people and Black culture represented on this campus. The greatest part about it is that the Black students here mean business. Since I’ve been here, I’ve witnessed two Black student body Presidents and a Black student Trustee. I’ve witnessed my Black friends earn highly competitive internships at places from the White House to Ernst and Young to Microsoft. I’ve witnessed friends pursue their dreams to reach the people with their music, fashion, or art ideas. I have also gotten to learn from highly educated Black professors, scholars, and mentors. I truly do love all this about University of Illinois, but it’s still not a perfect picture.
Being Black here comes with a number of challenges, and that should always be noted. These challenges can include those that are academic, systematic, and socioeconomic. But here, the Black community is always there for each other to work through those challenges. I do imagine the same for other racial, ethnic, and cultural communities represented at this university.
The University of Illinois strives to create an inclusive and diverse environment. Throughout my time here, I have always felt encouraged to branch out and get connected to individuals who don’t look or act like me. My freshman year, I was fortunate enough to live at Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall where I was connected to people from other walks of life. These connections led to lifelong friendships. This changed my whole perspective on the world. We are so quick to divide ourselves into our “safe” homogenous groups. When we challenge ourselves to be participants in a diverse community, we have the opportunity to grow and develop in ways that are impossible if we stay put in the environment we started in. This growth and development can also give us a more profound understanding of ourselves.
I’ve had the chance to get involved on campus and to discover my true self through the numerous activities and resources available to Illinois students. Here are a number of resources I’ve been exposed to that have helped me to understand myself as a Black student here:
- 100 STRONG Mentorship Program
- University Housing
- The Institute by Leadershape
- Inclusive Illinois
- Acts Campus Ministry
- Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS)
- Central Black Student Union (Eusa Nia)
- Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center (BNAACC)
- Office of Minority Student Affairs
Being a Black student at the University of Illinois is an opportunity to find out who you are. It is a chance to understand both rejection and acceptance. It is a moment in time to define and understand yourself, both including and beyond your race. Although it’s not necessarily Hillman College, the fictional HBCU that I saw in “A Different World” on TV, Illinois is a different world, too.