The Ohio State University was not what I expected both in a positive and negative sense.
Escaping the Brecksville Bubble
I came from a predominantly white high school in Brecksville, Ohio (20 minutes south of Cleveland) where you could count the total number of black students on two hands. People for the most part had similar beliefs, political views, lives and just general outlooks on life. And while I was used to living in that community for most of my life, and was definitely a part of it, I 100% felt sheltered from my identity and often felt I didn’t have a chance to find out what being unapologetically black meant for me. I told myself I’d go to college at a big school like Ohio State to escape the “Brecksville Bubble”, and essentially expose myself to more racial, religious, political, economic and even sexual diversity.
How I Found My Community
I did an early arrival program for the Bell National Resource Center’s (BNRC) Early Arrival Program for African American males. I knew this would be the first time I’d be surrounded by majority (all) black males in an academic setting, and not just at a family event or church setting. One would think I might be nervous being around such a variety of people, but it automatically felt right for me. There was about 50-60 of us who showed up three days early to move in and begin all of the BNRC events. We were split into cohorts of about 8-9 students, and we built relationships on smaller scales at first. We got very close with our groups early on and throughout the first couple of days because of all of the time spent together, but the last day we probably got the closest as we did a campus wide scavenger hunt starting at the ARC, going through West to North to South campus, and then all the way back to the ARC, all by running! It was a competition in which cohorts teamed up and faced each other, and to this day it’s one of my best experiences at Ohio State. I finally had the opportunity to feel unapologetically black and meet people and make friends with people who could relate to me better. Even now our cohort and group still keeps in contact, and I’m close with multiple people from the program.
A Little Wake-Up Call
At this point, my excitement was sky high and I was so ready for the year now that I had developed so many relationships with different types of people. However, I was brought back to some of the realities I would face after I was in the elevator of my residence hall (Park-Stradley) on the regular move-in day. I saw a white mother (you’ll understand why I had to mention her race in a moment) trying to get into the elevator before it closed, and I held it open for her. She said, “Thank you,” but her very next words were, “Oh, so what sports do you play here?” And my reaction to yet another microaggression was…
But for that same reason, I became appreciative of an experience like the BNRC. It helped me get connected to Hale Hall and went to Office of Diversity and Inclusion events and allowed me the opportunity to meet other black students and form really strong relationships.Through my current role as a peer leader, as well as other opportunities I’ve taken advantage of on campus, I’ve been exposed to individuals from vastly different backgrounds that my own. These include others from different economic backgrounds, geographic regions, students with vastly different political and religious views, and peers with different sexual orientations and gender identities. The opportunities I’ve taken advantage of have helped me to find myself and my community here on campus, and made me more holistic and open minded in the process.