By: Aliyyah Dizly
In 2014, I experienced a rude awakening. I had transferred from Prairie View A&M University, an HBCU known for its unwavering pride, beautiful campus and relevant history, to a PWI (Predominately White Institutions) tucked away in the mountains of New Jersey. The transferring process was a nightmare within itself. I experienced back to back complications and extremely unpleasant staff members.
The stress of these difficulties were intensified because I was a first time mom with a newborn who was exclusively breastfed and wouldn’t sleep. Every single day that I was on campus attempting to re-enroll back into school, I broke down in tears. They shook me, but I didn’t allow those adversities the defeat me.
My first semester there was like being in an entirely different world. I was the only Black student in many of my classes. I had gone from being comfortably surrounded by people who looked, talked and thought just like me to feeling misplaced and isolated. Every day that followed my very first class there, was filled with resentment, discomfort and plots on how to get back to Texas.
I was forced to sit in classes and listen to my white classmates discuss the recent tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s murders. I wondered where the walks, and the prayers, and the protests were. The lack of concern and action enraged me. I had to constantly remind myself that I was at a PWI, that I was no longer at Prairie View A&M University.
As time went by I grew more confident and more comfortable because I hadn’t been subjected to any racism or prejudices. In fact, I had taken a class with one of the most inspiring and encouraging professors that I’ve ever had in my entire college career to this day. I still believed that I belonged at an HBCU and felt that I couldn’t relate to anyone or anything at this PWI but that maybe the remainder of my time here might not be so bad.
The start of every semester was plagued with unavoidable mishaps. Spring of 2015 my father died and my baby got reoccurring ear infections that caused fluid to leak from his ears, sleepless nights and surgery. This semester, Fall 2015, my wallet was stolen, my son’s school was closed on the first week of my classes and my car was hit by another driver while on my way to school. The police gave me an extremely difficult time with the car accident for not physically having my driver’s license, which was in my stolen wallet, amongst other reasons. I was even questioned on whether I had been drinking or if I was on medication.
I missed class and decided to bring my son to the next meeting with me since his school was closed. Before I could even sit my things down and discuss my situation with the professor, she asked me to leave the class. She followed me into the hallway and straight up told me that I should just withdraw because I wasn’t going to pass. This woman didn’t know me outside of my name.
All she knew about me was that I missed the first day of class and showed up to the second one with a one year old. I was at a loss of words. I wasn’t expecting any exceptions if she happened to be opposed to students bringing their children to class, but what I was expecting was to be approached respectfully. Instead, I was judged and discouraged. This woman wasn’t aware of the cards that life had dealt me.
Her words had the potential to make me lose it because what she said to me was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I left her class in tears that day. Each issue that I was facing came with a series of other problems, I was in a sensitive and weakened state and her dispiriting words was the last thing I needed to hear.
It’s human nature to make a decision of whether to fight or flight. That same day I looked for a way out. I didn’t want to be in her class. But because we were well into the second week of classes, everything was full and finding an alternative would require more work than I had the time, patience and energy to put in. I stayed, and vowed to avoid any absences at all costs, be in my seat before she walked into class and to walk out of her class at the end of the semester with an A.
I decided to stay and fight. This fight would prove her wrong. This fight would be my revenge to her damning words. This fight would show her that she was wrong about the young, Black mother that she tried to get rid of at the beginning of the semester.
Black women face adversities in the school setting from grade school all the way up to college. Studies have shown that Black girls are suspended from school six times more than White girls. There are stigmas that have been placed upon Black women. We’re thought of as full of rage and attitude, problematic, and rambunctious. What better way to keep order in the classrooms than to suspend little Black girls and encourage young Black women to withdraw?
I’ve come to realize that the true disruptions in my college classes have come from white girls attempting to enforce their White privilege. On numerous occasions, I’ve sat in my seat and watched in disbelief as my White classmates wasted class time going back and forth with the professor demanding that their low test grades be curved or that the deadline on a homework assignment be extended.
What do we do as Black women when we are forced to wear this negative stereotype like the scarlet letter? What do we do as black women when that scarlet letter leads to our sisters being put out of classes, denied from organizations, given a hard time and snatched from desks and thrown across classrooms? We tear those scarlet letters off and burn them. We show them that despite their attempts to defeat us, we will prevail.
Not only will we graduate from high school, but we will also graduate in the top ten percent. Not only will we graduate in the top ten percent, but we will also continue our education and go to college. Not only will we go to college, but we will graduate with honors. Not only will we graduate with honors, but we will go on to get second bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees if we so choose to do so. Then we are going to pursue careers, start our own businesses and do so with grace and class.
Our victories are much sweeter than anyone else’s could ever be because while we are accomplishing goals, we are fighting off people and systems put in place to defeat us and bring us down. Tap into the strength that dwells within you, Black woman. Relieve yourself of that wretched scarlet letter and set it ablaze. You are capable and you are destined. Step into your destiny and take what is rightfully yours.