Opinion | Dear PWIs, stop dismissing your Black students

By Ashanti McLaurin, Staff Columnist

I was always taught by my family that I would have to prepare myself for racist remarks and microaggressions during my college years. 

Whether they come from a professor, staff member or another student, I made myself aware that I am going to fall victim to repetitive discrimination that I have heard multiple times before throughout my life. February is Black History Month, when Black people can celebrate our history, achievements and more. This month educates everyone on what Black history is then and now. It is tiring to keep educating people on what it is like being Black in America at times. Yet, I still find myself doing this in college at my predominately white institution.

A predominately white institution — PWI for short — is a term used to describe institutions of higher learning in which white people account for fifty percent or greater of the student enrollment. Pitt is a very large and well-known PWI in America.. The enrollment is made up of about 20,000 undergraduate students, but out of those 30,000+ students, only around 8% is made up of Black students. 

Race has always sat consciously in mind throughout the three years I have been attending Pitt. It lives subconsciously in my mind, but also in the minds of other Black students at PWIs as well. I feel my classmates’ stares when I walk into the classroom. The first thing I find myself doing is scanning the room to see if there’s anyone else that’s Black, and I sigh in relief if I do see another person, especially in classes that discuss race. Anytime race is talked about, especially Black issues, it’s second nature to look at the only minority in the room expecting them to comment on what they face daily.

In 2020, a fraternity at the University of Georgia, Lambda Chi Alpha, was exposed for sending racist messages about a Black student in their group chat. Arianna Mbunwe, a UGA student, received screenshots of the messages and became the subject of racial remarks by fraternity members. “Lord give me the strength to not call that woman a racial slur,” and “what a foul, miserable creature,” were only a few messages from the screenshots Mbunwe posted on her Twitter account. The New York Times reported that “One person, whose username was ‘Ghost of Aunt Jemima,’ made a comment speculating about Ms. Mbunwe’s genitalia and said she was ‘mad she didn’t get a bid,’ a reference to the selection process for sororities and fraternities.” The University of Georgia did not expel or punish the students, and Arianna only received an apology from the university and the national chapter organizer. 

It was disturbing reading about Arianna’s frat experience, but not shocking when I learned that the students did not face any repercussions. Incidents similar to Arianna’s happen almost all the time. Cases of racism like hers happen constantly to Black students at their predominantly white colleges. 

Some Black students feel unwelcome at their institution and are so horribly mistreated that transferring might become an option to escape that feeling of uncomfortability. In general, Black students deserve better treatment and representation at predominantly white institutions. Black students should not just be praised and acknowledged only as sources of entertainment such as music and sports. Black students should be recognized for all their different achievements.

Paying Black athletes, supporting and hiring more Black faculty, raising awareness and funding Black scholarship opportunities are practical reformation tactics I feel PWIs can achieve. Incorporating Black studies courses in college curriculums is a major practice that I feel students need to implement and take. Students that cannot relate to the Black experience can learn how us Black students maneuver throughout the world.

To all of the Black students at PWIs — try not to feel discouraged if you are surrounded by people that are not like you. There are people out there that would love to be your friend. If you can, get in touch with your school’s alumni — at Pitt there is the African-American Alumni Council. The AAAC helps ensure students like me are provided with resources and create a familial bond. Also, try to join clubs and organizations like a Black Action Society to network and create connections with other Black students and faculty. I know it can be hard to see people staring at you when you walk into their classroom. Never forget, you are here because you made sure to acquire the best education for yourself.

If no one has told you, I will — you are appreciated. Even if you do not feel it, trust me, you are by your Black peers. They have your back and I have your back too.


A Black college student who is tired of being dismissed.

Ashanti McLaurin primarily writes about Black culture, human injustices and gives life advice. Write to her at [email protected].