Goku: More white… If I’m more upper income black, what’s different about my...You’re more in that whole opera, classical music—that type of culture…I mean, when you’re in that type of culture, you’re in a predominately white culture because black people as a demographic, aren’t really involved in those kind of things. Like, you might have played tennis and golf. Things like that.
Sean, a freshman, had grown up in San Jose California around a large majority of blacks and Latinos and he attended an all black charter school in East Palo Alto where he played basketball. In his interview, he remarked on his discomfort when he was unsuccessful in his attempts to say hello or make eye contact with other black students he encountered on his way to class. He was used to living in a mostly black world where his same-race peers shared the same experiences and interactional styles as him. He stated:
Sean:…And then I got here, I realized the [black] people aren’t like the people from back home, they’re not friendly, they’re not, like you can’t just walk up to somebody, like hey, how you doing. I don’t know, it just seems like people are in their own little mode… I mean I don’t know, cause like it’s weird because like where I’m from in San Jose it’s like I’m from East San Jose and so it’s majority, the majority is a minority…So it’s like you see, you know what I’m saying, like for the most part you either know them or you’ve seen them. So it’s like, what’s up. And if you haven’t, it’s like most of them are pretty cool…It’s rare that you see white people…
Interviewer: What’s different about this place with black people?
Sean: Just I don’t know, like I guess their lives. Like my friends, my close friends back home…and the fact that we went to the same schools, we did a lot of the same things. Like I don’t know, like the way we view the world was like real similar so like we talked and we understand each other and it’s just like yeah, all right, that’s cool.
Sean had few friends his freshman year, mostly keeping to himself. He hoped to pledge a black fraternity his sophomore year in hopes of meeting other blacks that shared his interests.
At her racially mixed magnet high school in inner-city Philadelphia, Julie’s friendship circle had been comprised of other working class students like herself.
Interviewer: Does it seem like people have money here?
Julie: Mm, hmm, even the black people, yeah.
Interviewer: Even black people?
Julie: Mm, hmm.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about that.
Julie: …a lot of my friends come from, like they have money…Yeah, yeah, or if they’re not doctors and lawyers, they just have money, like their parents can afford to pay their tuition, you know…They may have a little financial aid but they don’t get as much as like I get, you know, like those types of things.
Julie had won a full scholarship to The Wharton Business School and was the first in her family to attend college.
Yolanda’s interview took place during her first semester at the University. At her private boarding school, she had been one of two blacks in her graduating class. She was awed by the relative size of the University’s black student body. She explained:
Um, it’s really weird being around so many black people, [laughing] [I]’m like:
‘Wow, this is weird!’ [laughing] Like, ah, like, ‘cause um, when I was at [name of boarding school], I know there’s like two of us…I think some people like, for instance, black people who went to public schools that are like, have so many black people and then they come here, and they’re just like:‘[softly] there are no Black people here!’ I’m just like, ‘what are you talking about?!’ [laughing] ‘Yes there are!’ Even though, percentage-wise, there aren’t but I’m just like, wow!
Yolanda spoke at length about her adjustment to campus and how her pre-college perceptions of the black student population as being mostly working class and African American were incorrect. She learned that some of her white friends were financial aid recipients unlike her classmates in high school. She explained:
Yolanda: …I pretty much thought it was pretty much just going to be, black people who are on financial aid [chuckles].
Interviewer: Why would you get that perception?
Yolanda: ‘Cause it was kinda like that at [name of high school]… Where it was like, we were pretty much the only ones who were like, in programs, and had scholarships, and stuff. Like, even though other people like, there’s some peop – not everybody there was like, upper class rich or whatever.
Yolanda was also quite surprised to find out that there were quite a few other African students at the University whom she could relate to culturally.
Interviewer: Anything surprise you when you first got here?
Yolanda: I was surprised at how many Africans there were here. ‘Cause I was so used to being the only African, so that, you know when someone was like, oh Ghana and, Nigeria, or Tanzania, and some people were actually born there, it’s just like: “Really!?”
But, Yolanda was quickly disappointed when she did not automatically make a slew of same-race friends, as she assumed she would. She became chagrined by the many black cliques and found it hard to fit in. Yolanda stated:
…I don’t know if this is gonna be one of the questions, but one of the things that had, ah, attracted me to Penn, was the fact that like it seemed like the black community here, was so, ah, so comforting, and it was like just welcoming, and so I’m just like, ‘you know, that’s great,’ you know, and I, I really liked [it here] then I came here and it’s so not like that, like it’s like, first there’s so many different cliques. I know every, everyone has cliques, but it’s just like, the fact that okay, there’s so few of us here anyway for there to be such animosity between different groups…it’s just like, ridiculous.
In high school, Yolanda was happy with the fact that she had had friends from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds and that they had all gotten along. For her, the divisions among the black students at the University were unsettling. She explained:
Yolanda: My clique or whatever, was like, just a, a, rainbow of colors [laughs]! And, it was just like, and it was just, it was just fun that way…
Interviewer: How did you think it was gonna be here before you got here?
Yolanda:… I mean, I really, I didn’t know…all the black people I had met before I came here, were really, really nice, and I mean, that was part of the reason why I
wanted to be at Du Bois, ‘cause I knew most of the black people were in Du Bois, so I figured there was going to be a lot of the nice people who I met, and it was cool, ‘cause it did seem like a little family…But I didn’t really think about, how, it would be, in terms of me hanging out with people outside my race, or how it would be perceived, ‘cause I guess, being that, um, at, my boarding school, um, boarding high school…but, that didn’t mean you didn’t have friends who were outside your race...I think I just subconsciously figured it would be fine, um, and then I came here and – [pause] like the first, the first, um, week or so…I pretty much was just hanging out with only black people…and then once my classes started, that’s when really got to know, know different people and everything. But um, but I just said it still didn’t dawn on me that, you know, you’re, you’re supposed to just hang out with black people, until, you know, I think it was one day I was like walking down the street, it was me, my [Indian] roommate and the [Chinese] girls across the hall, and like, there were people sitting on the little stoop by Du Bois…I don’t know, it was just the look kind of was like, ‘hmm,’ and then I realized…I’m not with any other black person and and I was just like, ‘Whoa!’ [laughs]
Yolanda like many others I interviewed felt an enormous pressure to be accepted by their same-race peers. This desire took a great emotional time on students as they grappled with both the academic and social challenges of the University.