The goal of Embracing My Blackness was to explore how Black women embrace their culture and how they find community at predominantly white institutions. To do this, I interviewed three Black women undergraduate students about their experiences at university, their backgrounds and how their upbringings have affected their experiences at college. I also captured photographs with these students in order to give viewers a more well-rounded perspective of my subjects.
Though I knew I am not alone in my negative experiences at Ohio State partly due to my being Black, it is completely different when you hear specific recounts from students about how they feel more pressure to succeed as a student of color, and how others try to connect with any similarities they have in order to build a community of friends that would otherwise not exist. These detailed and personal accounts helped me realize that everyone deals with adversity in different ways, and that though not all people are accepting of unfamiliar cultures and people, it is important to be proud of who I am, where I come from, the way I speak, etc. because that is how I can continue to grow as a person and unapologetically love myself. I deserve to, even if others do not.
I also learned that not all people have the same path in building friendships in college, or even in life, and that’s perfectly fine. One of the people I interviewed, Mariah McDaniel, expressed how she didn’t have a close-knit friend group at her university, but she didn’t seem to be angry or hurt by it. I felt acceptance in her tone in addition to high confidence in herself. McDaniel knows that she was a great, loving person—even if the confidence may waver from time to time. Speaking to her helped me realize that friends come and go all the time. As long as I remain true to who I am, there’s no doubt that one day a community of friends will come.
The question, “How do you find community on your campus?” led to a big transformation for me. One subject for this project, La’Nae Plaxico answered that joining clubs that serve your interests is a great way to meet people. This is an answer that I had always considered, though it has not always worked for me. In a personal sense, I realized that just as I connect with people who are similar to me, I am very inquisitive and thrive off of learning about people who are different than I am. The latter can not be sought out, necessarily, by joining specific clubs, but they are found serendipitously.
Interviewing my subjects also made me wish that there was a women’s center at Ohio State more than I have ever yearned for one before. The three women I interviewed are intelligent, thoughtful and impact their universities in profound ways. Two of these women are students at Ohio State. A common thread between them are that they expressed feelings of being overlooked as students, and more specifically as being African-American women. While one student, who attends Ball State University, has the option of fulfilling certain needs at her university’s women’s center, the Ohio State students have a website to refer to instead of a women’s center. This situation heightened my passion to create a digital and physical space for women so they understand that they are worthy of a safe space to discuss issues specific to them.
The Embracing My Blackness series helped me realize that we are all special in our own way. It is unfortunate that some people are prejudice to others who they deem to be unlike them, but in the long run these people are only hurting themselves. Being Black is nothing to be ashamed of, and amongst the noise and negativity that some like to claim do not exist and hurt students of color, students in the African diaspora will still rise. Everything that makes a person who that are may not make them desirable to all, but it does make them unique. This storytelling process has been healing and now, I don’t only know that I am Black, I am deeply proud of it too.