So finally, it has arrived. The famous senior year.
This is the time of my life when I’m supposed to make “unforgettable memories,” the time I’m supposed to explore everything and do everything while I still have the chance, the time I’m supposed to wistfully look back on years from now as I recall the people I knew and person I once was. The year that is the culmination of the supposed “best years of my life” comes with equal fun and stress, as the thrill of being a senior is matched with an even greater anxiety and stress over the college application process. More than anything else, seniors in high school are thinking of what colleges to apply to, writing their personal statements and supplement essays, getting recommendation letters, taking the SAT for the last time, and doing whatever else they need to do to guarantee an acceptance letter to their dream schools.
However, there’s a little more to consider when it comes to the college process.
I knew that I wanted to major in journalism since my freshman year. Writing is my favorite thing to do and my best skill, so I was set that I wanted to focus on it in college. I started looking up schools that could help me cultivate my writing and media skills. I made a strong list of schools that I wanted to go to, but there were a few others that didn’t exactly fit what I was looking for, but they still had a pretty good journalism program. Washington & Lee University was one of them.
For these few schools on my college list, I hadn’t done much research. I only knew that they had my major and decided to do further research later on. So when late August came and school was only a few weeks away, I revisited these schools. That’s when I discovered what Washington & Lee University really was. Just two weeks after the Charlottesville white nationalist “rally”, I learned that this Virginia college was named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee—two people who owned slaves, the latter being a Confederate army commander. Reading that this school’s history, and even its current culture, was heavily influenced by a racist gave me chills.
What other schools will I be applying to that are named after racists or slaveowners? How many colleges in America were literally built by slaves? Is the hatred and invalidation of my existence as a black human being embedded into the walls of all the schools on my Common App list?
These thoughts were jarring for me. I thought I had everything together toward the end of the summer—my personal statement was written, my supplements were almost done, I’d taken the SAT, I had my recommendors. But this experience disrupted the flow; for the first time, I realized that I wasn’t just a student applying to college. I was black first. I had to deal with that and how it would affect the colleges I choose to apply to, my admission to those colleges, and my experience once I get there.
If I boycott businesses once I find out that they have a racist history, shouldn’t colleges be treated with the same principle? Or do I not have that choice? What choice do I have, really?
Of course, HBCUs are an option. There 107 HBCUs to choose from where I wouldn’t have to worry about a racist history or experience. But what if there’s a PWI that’s better for my major, or just my preferences (location, tuition, campus style, professors, student life, etc)?
I’ve finalized my college list now and have done research on all of the schools on it. I didn’t find any history of owners of the schools who owned slaves or supported the Confederacy, but of course you can never be certain. Either way, I know that I want to get my education to better myself. I want to use journalism as a tool to uplift and de-marginalize people of color. No matter where I get my education, my life will be dedicated to alleviating the oppression that marginalized groups face. The college I want to go to is the one that will provide me with the best environment and tools to prepare me for this journey.