Segregation and the intraracial divide

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Initial Expectations

Three-quarters of interview respondents who attended predominately white high schools revealed that they had a strong desire to live and socialize with their black college peers. More specifically, they discussed their excitement about being in a big city with a large black population and being on a campus with a wide variety of black-oriented academic and social resources. Students remarked that they had felt comfortable on their first visits to the University where they had met with black professors and current students to learn first-hand about the black experience there.

Oprah reflected on her initial excitement about coming to the University of Pennsylvania. She was determined to take full advantage of all the University had to offer, especially the fact that she could finally have a black-oriented social life. She stated: “I really felt that as a black female if I had an opportunity to go to an Ivy League school I had to go. So I was kind of hoping on Penn.” Oprah was accepted to another Ivy but decided on the University of Pennsylvania because she did not like the environment at the other school. She felt that the black students were “uppity” and did not think she would fit in with them.

I got into [name of university] first and I went to visit and it was really, I didn’t have a good time, it rained all weekend. And then I don’t think I really liked the people I was around, I felt really shy. I was going through like this strange stage where like I didn’t want to talk. People always tell me I sound white or acted white, so I was around all these black people, I was afraid to be out there for fear that people would say that. So I had a very quiet weekend, I was really quiet. But I was like, well, if I don’t get into Penn, I have to go here.

Oprah did not want a repeat of high school where she was always the only black person in her friendship circle. She explained:

I made a very conscious choice I did not want to be the only black girl amongst white people anymore. And more importantly, I didn’t want to feel isolated or ostracized from the black community. I had done it for so long.

Minority Scholar’s Weekend for accepted minority students (which occurs in the spring before freshman year) and the Africana Studies Summer Institute, an intensive week-long session of classes held by the Center for Africana Studies the summer preceding freshman year were crucial to shaping students’ initial expectations of the University and what life as a black person would be like there.

Although not specifically asked, over half the interview sample revealed that they had attended Minority Scholars’ Weekend and that this had been a fun time to meet other incoming black students and learn about the variety of black-oriented scholastic resources and social outlets, especially the Du Bois College House where they could live with a critical mass of black students. Minority Scholar’s Weekend is designed to entice students from underrepresented minority groups (especially blacks and Latinos) to matriculate at the University of Pennsylvania over other schools. Prospective students stay with other minority students for the weekend, meeting with professors and university personnel, and attend social and cultural events especially for them. This initial campus visit provided many with a good first impression of the University. They reported having a lot of fun partying and socializing with their same-race peers, often for the first time in their lives.

James, a sophomore at the time of his interview, came to the University for Minority Scholar’s Weekend and really enjoyed himself. He met several of his friends there and explained that he immediately felt “comfortable”.

James: I came here, they have Minority Scholar’s Weekend…So, when we came here, I instantly clicked with a lot of people…One of them became my roommate the first two years—who is now a housemate of mine along with two other people.

Interviewer: And as far as enrolling at Penn, what turned the cards for you?

James: It was Scholar’s Weekend, definitely.

Besides making friends, James explained that the parties during Scholar’s Weekend were really fun and gave him the impression that Black students had a vibrant social life.

…The parties at Scholar’s Weekend—I mean, it’s a common thing. They suck you in at the parties at Scholar’s Weekend. And you get here and you think it’s gonna be like that every weekend. You think it’s Florida State and you’re just gonna be able to go out and hang out. And, there’s going to be tons of [black] people.

James did not feel the same way when he visited Harvard, his other top choice. He thought the black students were not as fun to be with and were “weird.”

Nina also felt that Minority Scholar’s Weekend was the deciding fact for her when she had to make the choice between the University of Pennsylvania and Barnard College.

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