By Ashantee Polk
I’m a 20 year old, third-year, first generation college student. I didn’t fully realize what it meant to be a Black girl until I graduated high school. I graduated in 2020 and didn’t necessarily experience racism or micro-aggressions EXCEPT for this one incident when I attended the Black College Expo in the 11th-grade. I wasn’t all that excited to attend the event because I had a 2.0. That was already a barrier for me but I still applied to schools because I knew some college would accept me. Although I was accepted to three HBCUs, those weren’t my priority choices. My dream college was Princeton University in New Jersey.
During the Expo, I went to the Princeton University booth, and I wish someone would’ve prepared me for what I was about to hear. At the booth, a white woman BOLDLY said, “There are only a few percentages of Black students who get accepted.” My heart shattered and I was ready to leave the event. That booth was the only reason I was there. To hear the white woman say that was like hearing a family member pass away. Because of her statement, I didn’t think I was good enough for any college.
As a result of her comments, I researched the stats on Princeton. Indeed, Black students represent only 4.7% of Princeton students, while 34.6% are White, 18.6% are Asian, 9.08% are Hispanic or Latino, 4.7% are two or more races, 0.127% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.0637% are Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders. Though those stats put a dent in my heart for the moment, I went on in my life and applied to other colleges.
After graduating from high school during the pandemic, I started college online. Everything went smoothly until I met with my academic counselor. Of course, as a new student, everyone has to meet with their counselor to prepare for their upcoming semester and/or future academic career. I was excited to meet with my counselor, but she was distracted, looked and sounded uninterested, and even had me retake a course I’d already taken in high school. From that day on, I knew I didn’t “fit in”. I knew that neither my education nor I were important to the counselor. That meant I was going to have to work extra hard to achieve my educational goals. I persevered and eventually found a group that was dedicated to Black student success. The group is called Umoja. Umoja prioritizes Black student education, Black student success, and Black students in general. Umoja provides Black counselors. Many of them have their doctorates in education, and that is encouraging. They provide scholarships, Black college tours, and conferences where students are able to connect with other Umoja students across California. They also help you apply for and get accepted into the college of your choice. My personal favorite is the workshops. The workshops are amazing because you get the opportunity to win money, meet with celebrities, and receive character-building advice. They are also very big on helping students fill out the Black Common application, which is one application that is sent to over 67 HBCUs. Umoja is primarily on community college campuses, but you can find the organization at UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and even Cal-State East Bay University. Umoja is the one and only thing I miss about my previous school. Though my college experience hasn’t been the best, it’s moving along smoothly, and I am now currently at a university where I am supported and valued.