Student Voices

Jai Graham

 

Jai Graham

I think that when I first came to WCU, I already had an idea of what to expect because I was practically raised in Asheville and went to schools there throughout my entire childhood. I was used to being the only (or one of the few) black kids in my class. Needless to say, when I came to Western - I was ready to experience the same feeling. The feeling of being a color among a pale palate; so when I got to Western I was pleasantly surprised that I didn't feel that way about myself anymore. I don't know how and I don't know why, but when I got to college being black took on an entirely different meaning to me. I took pride in my blackness and that wasn't something I ever felt that I had the opportunity to embrace in high school, or middle school, or even elementary school. And when you recognize that difference that early on in your life, it truly does effect the way you view color and how something so simple has the ability to shape your life. Being a black girl at Western gave me a little more identity to work with, it gave me a little more drive than I had before to make sure that if people were going to notice the color of my skin - They were going to attach greatness to my name along with it. And that's something to be proud of.

Tenae Turner

 

Tenae Turner

Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Burlington
Major: Political Science and Business Administration And Law

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: When I first got here, I didn’t really see a lot of African-American students. I really just stayed in my room, went to class, went to the cafeteria with my roommate and some friends. Then, I came to the ICA and I started getting involved more with groups like the Black Student Union and Project Care, and I was able to meet a lot of other African-American students. It’s just been a great experience because we’re all a big community. It’s been very positive. There’s always the downfall of dealing with other students that aren’t African-American, but overall, the experience has been great.

Q: What advice would you give an African-American student thinking about coming to WCU?

A: I would tell them if you’re not comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone and going the extra mile to feel included, then it’s not really the place. But I would say come and get involved, meet new people, be friendly and it has a world of experiences waiting.

Manteo Mitchell

 

Manteo Mitchell

WCU Alumnus

Olympic Medalist, US & World Champion, Model, Entrepreneur, Motivational Speaker, and Health Coach

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: When I attended WCU, the numbers overall were slim. There were less than 8,000 students on campus. Coming from a predominantly white high school, I already knew the expectations before I arrived on campus in regards to the number of black students. My experience at WCU was full of ups and downs. As a student-athlete, I was granted the opportunity to represent my university and the Cullowhee community through athletics. I became an ambassador at a very young age. Growth is something that comes to mind regarding my overall experience.

Q: What advice would you give an African-American student thinking about coming to WCU?

A: My advice is simple. Do your research! That's for any school, really. WCU has an awesome array of programs available. The mountains are beautiful and offer unlimited opportunities to explore and do things you may have never done before. To my African-American prospective and current students... I say please join some of the groups that are for YOU specifically. This helps you to connect on a different level and it could very well be the resource you'll need further down your journey.

Q: Have you enjoyed your experience at WCU?

A: I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time at WCU. It's funny, being that I continued to train there as a professional athlete following walking the stage in 2009. A kid from Mooresboro, NC (population less than 400), makes it to WCU (population less than 10,000), makes it on the National/International stage (population in the billions)... yet still called Cullowhee home. If that doesn't show that I enjoyed it, then I don't know what does!

Q: How do you feel that can improve?

A: Honestly, as the years have gone by, I've witnessed the steady changes. I have noticed that the African-American enrollment has increased. There are more resources and programs available for all students and for groups then when I was a student-athlete. This all creates more opportunities. Opportunities are all you need to start the process of succeeding. WHEE are WESTERN! Go Cats! #FaithFocusFinish

Hlekani Totten

 

Hlekani Totten

Year: Senior
Hometown: Greensboro
Major: Political Science

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: Being here at Western as an African-American student and an African-American woman, it’s been both good and bad. The good side is I feel like being here, I was able to establish myself and figure out what type of career I wanted. The professors have been very welcoming and helped me decide where I want to go in life with my career choices. Some hindrances that I have endured is that you have to really work twice as hard being an African-American woman here because people automatically look down on you, saying you’re not as smart or qualified enough as an African-American student. That’s bad and good because it pushes you, but at the same time it’s kind of insulting being that you feel like you’re not qualified enough. Other than that, I’ve had a really great experience here. I’ve been really involved with SGA. I’ve been on the executive committee for two years. I’ve been an RA. I’m a tour guide currently. It’s been very good being involved and getting to figure out who I am as a person at Western.

Q: What advice would you give an African-American student thinking about coming to WCU?

A: If you want to come here, just really be open to change. Really know who you are and know your morals and your values. Don’t let anybody change you, but be willing to learn new things and adapt to different types of people at atmosphere because it will challenge you, but it will help you grow as a person. You’re stepping our of your comfort zone from where your home is and coming to a whole different environment.

Clifton Price

 

Clifton

Year: Graduate
Program: Counseling

At WCU I experienced many things. I received a BS in Mathematics, a BA in Education, and a minor in Psychology. I'm currently attending WCU for a masters in counseling.

In my undergrad days, I witnessed hatred at a magnified level when a bear's head was severed and put at the entrance of the school with Barack Obama's picture on the bear.* I was in Brown cafeteria when a noose was found.  I have experienced being treated differently at mechanics, restaurants, grocery stores, and various other places while attending WCU, but I can say that while on campus and interacting with professors, I was never mistreated or judged by my appearance.  I appreciated that, and I still appreciate that.  At WCU, I learned so much valuable information, and my experience while attending WCU has been inspiring to me. I gained a sense of hope for humanity while attending WCU.  One example was when a white friend of mine sat with me in Brown cafeteria one day.  We were casually eating lunch and my friend looked at me and said, "Thank You Clif."  I was confused, and I asked my friend to explain the thank you.  He said to me, "Clif, I thank you for changing my views of black people."  I replied with, " what are you talking about?"  He then went on to explain that before meeting me, he was extremely prejudice towards people of color.  He also explained that in his entire life he was taught that it was perfectly fine to judge a person of color before getting to know them. So, he thanked me for changing his views.  I felt empowered and saddened at the same time.  Empowered because I broke through a barrier, but sad because I knew there were millions of other people like my buddy who wouldn't have that break through.

WCU taught me so much, and I'm extremely thankful for having had the experience of being a catamount!  There's a reason I went back to WCU for graduate school!

*Editor's note: Widespread national media reports perpetuated inaccurate early information about the infamous bear incident that occurred in 2008. Here are links to official university communications about the situation:
http://news-prod.wcu.edu/2008/10/bardo-poor-judgment-of-few-does-not-represent-campus-w-video/
http://news-prod.wcu.edu/2008/10/7-suspects-interviewed-in-campus-bear-incident/

Mya Lesley Drakeford

 

Myá Lesley-Drakeford

Year: Senior
Hometown: Atlanta
Major: Communication
(Public Relations)

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: When I first got here my freshman year, fall of 2013, it was very awkward because I wasn’t used to being around a lot of white people. It was kind of a culture shock because I’m from Atlanta. Coming up here to the mountains is a big difference. One thing I’ll never forget, in my English class, me and this other girl were the only two black girls in the class. We were talking about Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have A Dream,” and the teacher asked if we all had heard of it? People were looking at my friend, and me and we were like, “Yeah, we heard of it, but she’s asking everybody else.” That’s when I realized, people really don’t know. Some people were like, “That’s my first time listening to it. That’s a great speech.” Throughout the semester, I came to realize some people just don’t know and some people don’t want to know. The one’s that want to know, I’m willing to tell them. Last semester, with all the riots in Charlotte, I was the only black person in my class. We were talking about it and people were saying all this negative stuff. I wasn’t going to say anything because they would think I was the angry black girl in class, but they said something I didn’t like and I had to tell them that people were trying to do a peaceful protest at the beginning. But in the end you had some people that didn’t want to follow the rules and disrupt everything. I was explaining to them that you couldn’t just go by what you see on social media and what you see on the news. Find out the facts first before you start making your conclusion. Here at Western, they expect one black person to speak for everybody, but every person is different. I’m kind of glad that I chose to come here instead of an HBCU. I know HBCU’s are a great path to go and it’s your connection, it’s your culture. But sometimes it’s good to step out of your culture and learn other cultures because that’s making you more diverse, too.

Q: Why did you come to WCU?

A: The mountains. My aunt and uncle live in Colorado and I used to go there all the time in the summer. When I came up here, I said it reminds me of Colorado. I like the smallness of the school. The teachers are more personable than going to a bigger school. I like the teacher’s to know my name rather than know me by a number. 

Jared Johnson

 

Jared Johnson

Year: Senior
Hometown: Atlanta
Major: Electrical Engineering

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: I was born in Atlanta, so it’s been a pretty large change going from majority black to majority white. It’s been mostly positive. I feel that’s mostly because I was on the track team and that created more of a family atmosphere. It was diverse like where I am from. This last year it’s been a little bit more divided. I wouldn’t say it’s casted a negative effect on Western, but just more of the area has been more negative. The rhetoric I’ve seen from individuals around, it seems a majority of the people who are from around here it’s almost kind of got an angry tune to it towards minorities, just kind of subtle things people say in conversations about how the political climate is. Things they say will be really negative towards most minority populations.

Q: Being on the track team, did that make it easier to fit in?

A: Yes. It was a lot more accepting. Nothing has ever shunned me away at Western, but the track team kind of invites everyone and it creates a good atmosphere.

Erica Davis

 

Erica Davis

Year: Junior
Hometown: Charlotte
Major: Finance

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: For me, it’s been very engaging. I feel like because I am an African-American student at a predominantly white institution, I personally have to try to excel more than the rest of the students. It’s also been engaging due to Intercultural Affairs. We try to have a very close-knit community because we know we are a smaller population of African-American students. I’ve also worked harder to make sure that our population tries to include a lot more people into the things that we do so we don’t seclude ourselves from the rest of campus, while still making sure we’re all OK as a group.

Q: Have you enjoyed your experience at WCU?

A: I love it up here. It’s so different. I’m from Charlotte so we’re all concrete and big buildings. I came up here and I love the mountains and people are pretty friendly. I love it.

Deonte Holmes

 

Déonte Holmes

Year: Sophomore
Hometown: Baltimore
Major: Interior Design

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: I call it a privilege, knowing that it’s a predominantly white college. Knowing where we came from to now, it’s almost an honor and a privilege. For the most part, it’s been enjoyable. The community here, especially the Black Student Union, is really engaging. We’re trying to make sure that we’re all not left out. I haven’t had, or seen, any altercations over race.

Q: What advice would you give an African-American student thinking about coming to WCU?

A: It’s more than you would think. I really didn’t expect to see this many black people in the mountains. You would think there would be nothing but white people roaming this area. It’s a new adventure, a new view on life. It can have a huge impact on the way you perceive life and how you view things around you.

D'Myia Gause

 

D’Myia Gause

Year: Senior
Hometown: Wilmington
Major: Communication Sciences Disorders

Q: Describe your experience as an African-American student at WCU.

A: In this past year, I’ve had more experiences due to race just because of some of the issues we’ve experienced on campus. I’ve only had one that I can really speak on in which I was walking back to my room and a car almost hit me and then one of the passengers yelled out the window, “White Power.” It made me feel unsafe and unwelcomed. But that’s my main experience and it actually happened just a few months ago. Prior to that, I don’t think I was really conscientious to race in anything. In these recent months, it’s become a mental construct of mine. Currently, I feel unsafe a little bit, at least on Western’s campus. A lot of my peers, or people that I thought were peers, aren’t really as educated as I’d like them to be and they’re not empathetic to the issues that I face.

Q: How do you feel that can improve?

A: Through dialoging and actually taking the time to get to know people, their experiences, what they’ve gone through, how it makes them feel and not just hearing accounts that aren’t even relevant to you. I think some people think we’re saying the same thing over and over, but we’re not just saying the same thing over and over. I don’t know how big our voice is but I think it’s getting larger and more people are going to be receptive just because of the issues that have happened on our campus. They’re more willing to listen, or at least act like they’re listening, now. I think the voice is growing.

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