By Kpakpando Anyanwu
When I consciously acknowledge that I am more than halfway complete in finishing the first milestone of my higher education journey, my thoughts mainly pertain to how my persona was unapologetically molded by personal experiences at the University of Virginia. When I use the term “unapologetically”, I mean in the sense of a proud African with a Caribbean upbringing who is immersed in the culture of a predominantly white institution, with no prior advice or survival tips received from anyone.
During the period of choosing where to experience my undergraduate career, the main criteria on the agenda of my Nigerian parents focused on which school had the “prestigious” academic reputation in my state of residence. In the fall semester of 2015, I then found myself as an official student of U.Va. Although I was surrounded by thousands of students who neglected sanity when screaming uncontrollably that they repped the “Wahoo” lifestyle, I couldn’t help but think that I was a sore thumb in the crowd who lost her cultured voice in those moments.
After coming to stunning realizations about the social stereotypes and insinuated expectations of the U.Va. student majority population, I personally felt inclined to gravitate towards people that I could culturally and physically relate to. “The Black Community”, as it’s commonly regarded here, reminded me that I unrealistically depicted my university experience as scenes from A Different World. I view “The Black Community” as an exclusive HBCU within a controversial PWI, with the occasional reminders of indirect segregation and a soft bigotry of hopeless aspirations due to the position of racial marginalization. Constant disappointments correlated with false promises of equality and diversity appreciation has been the product of the depiction of “The Black Community”. This label continuously assures me that my skin color is a threat to attaining academic accomplishments in this country, and out of all places, it occurs in an environment originally constructed by a white man’s fear of an educated negro.
Hailing from a city in Virginia where a Confederate flag parade on the highway is considered a typical sight, I didn’t necessarily experience a shock from the racial division in the University. My only hope was to be in a setting where I could plant my heritage with no hesitancy attached. Then again, I still felt blind to the expectations withheld in identifying myself as a Black female attending a PWI.
My Black sprouted from a Nigerian seed that bloomed in the island of Grenada, watered with the bigoted restrictions of America for the past 14 years. As much as I feel rebellious by turning my head away from ideologies of the preppy “hellUVA” student, the doors at this educational institution have helped me build the vision of my future.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to Nigeria that I realized that I had a personal disconnection between myself and the cultural aura at school. From unlimited access to banga soup and fufu to hearing afro-beat music from Davido and the legendary Fela Kuti, I criticized myself for taking a hiatus in my native culture since I became immersed with pre-medical school-work and all-nighters accompanied with unsatisfying coffee. I revitalized a part of my identity I never want to lose sight of again, despite my focuses on advancing to graduate schools or experiencing the challenges of “adulting”. Assurance is gratified in proudly expressing that I am a misfit in the crowd of normality. I walk effortlessly on Grounds knowing that my shade is wrapped with African distinction, and that is the ultimate trophy in my life.