The academic pressure students at Amherst, including myself, have been experiencing during this final examination period has caused me to reflect on how much easier my experience in college has been/will be as opposed to my father. Baratunde Thurston’s chapter on his time at Harvard University as a student of color reminded me of the obstacles my father had told me about during his time at Boston College during the early 1970s. He was only able to attend through a track and field scholarship, so as a low-income student and a student of color he felt high pressure to perform well above his potential.
Looking at old yearbook photos of his, he is one of two African American males on his track team, and stands out broad as daylight. This was a time where racial diversification in institutions of higher education was very limited, and consequently my dad faced many issues with racism and isolation. While I frantically type out my final papers and flip through my lecture notes, I realize that I have never dealt with having to wake up everyday and look around and just feel different. Whether he encountered explicitly racist remarks on a typical day, or was told by his advisor that he did not have a place at the school, he had to deal with the consistent emotional strain of being black. That is something I think white people, no matter how educated they are towards racial injustice, will never fully empathize with, because they will never experience the feeling.
I could not be more fortunate for the time in American society where I was born, where I do not have to be so brave as to attend a school where due to my race category, I was considered an “exception”. My dad told me that his white peers and teachers made comments like this to him as though they thought that they were showering him with praise. Instead, he viewed these as extremely racially insensitive statements, as though they were saying “You’re ‘people’ are not good at exceeding, therefore you ability to perform well at a school like this is an accomplishment.” At Amherst, I have always felt that I deserved my place in admissions here and I am eternally grateful to not have to encounter the obstacles my dad did to receive the education, allowing me to afford such an education.