When I walked into Mason Hall this morning for my political science research design class, I stopped in my tracks and looked at the black construction paper that replaced the usual posters and flyers advertising events on campus. I saw African American students gathering to write messages with chalk about their experiences, both positive and negative, about being students of color at the University of Michigan. I picked up a piece of light blue chalk, placed it on the black paper, and stood for a few minutes. After thinking about what I wanted to write, I put the piece of chalk back down, leaving the space empty.
Throughout my class, I thought about what I wanted to write and then realized that a few words would not do justice in explaining how I feel as a biracial student on campus. Throughout my life, people have always questioned my race. At times, I have wondered if it is out of genuine curiosity or just plain ignorance. For some reason I never understood why people were infatuated with my hair or so quick to ask which one of my parents is white. And then it dawned on me — it is ambiguity that the human race is fascinated with.
As a junior at the University, I have never felt particularly comfortable identifying with one racial group over another. Although I have been a member of a few Black student organizations, at times I felt that I was not worthy because I grew up in a predominately white environment. Because of this, among other reasons, I did not join a Black sorority or the Black Student Union. I was simply afraid that I would stand out as an anomaly. I can admit that these are two regrets I have as someone graduating from the University next year.
It was not until yesterday morning, when the #BBUM trend on Twitter sparked national attention, that I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It reassured me that other students shared similar feelings to my own and that they recognized the same problems I have noticed since I stepped foot on campus. As I read through tweets, Facebook posts and handwritten messages in Mason, I had an “aha!” moment: It dawned on me that being biracial at the University means that while I can sympathize with the frustration of Black students, I am also conscientious of how white students feel about the racial climate on campus. It made me realize that it is my responsibility to support movements that empower minorities, while also understanding that other students, including those who are white, do not always feel safe and welcomed in classrooms and student organizations.
I am not blind to the racial issues and certainly not to the lack of diversity on campus, but it would be unfair to solely blame the University. We must do something to create change. In forming a movement, let us not forget that we attend a world-class institution — an institution that certainly has imperfections — but also has opportunities many could only dream of. An institution with a rich history of inclusion. An institution faced with bureaucratic challenges that often make problems difficult to solve. An institution that allows all students, including those of color, the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.
Let me be clear that I have had wonderful experiences at Michigan and have had opportunities that I am incredibly grateful for. I have heard President Barack Obama speak, traveled to Guatemala to volunteer on a medical mission trip, listened to the struggle and life story of Jose Antonio Vargas, watched my friends dance in cultural shows, and of course, cheered on the football team in the Big House. I have been taught by renowned professors and sat in on lectures with famous authors.
This being said, it is easy to get caught up in the school’s prestige, and lose sight of issues that affect many students including myself. I want my voice to be heard, and I want others to know that it is OK to not feel completely comfortable in one racial group. Being biracial is something that has shaped the person who I am, and how I identify myself at Michigan. I encourage all students, especially students of color to continue to generate a movement. In doing so, I hope that we reach out to other students, and rather than strengthen racial divides, work to loosen them.
Alexandria Foster is an LSA junior.