Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dark College Years

Academically, I was 100% prepared for college. Emotionally, I was not.

So the first thing that happened when Daddy transported me from my newly ghetto lifestyle with Foster Mama to the hallowed halls of Yale University was that I broke out in fever blisters and sank into a deep depression.

I'd applied to Yale for one very superficial reason: my senior year in high school, U.S. News and World Report ranked it as the #1 undergraduate school in the country. And I wanted to be #1.

Yale was actually my second choice.

My first choice was New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. I was accepted into NYU's playwrighting program ... but I didn't want to spend four years chained to a typewriter. I was given a partial scholarship ... but Yale's package was $1,175 better. I liked the idea of living in New York City ... but the endless concrete and subway piss completely overwhelmed me.

Throw in the fact that Yale's minimum wage was 35 cents an hour higher, their campus was greener and they put on a spring visit geared toward minority students, and the scales tipped in Yale's favor.

I chose Yale, and I pretty much regret that choice even to this day.

I more or less hated everything about it, starting with the gargoyles that leered at me from the top of every building. While my classmates chirped happily about how much they loved the Gothic architecture, I felt like I was living in a horror movie. I was afraid to go into the stacks by myself, because I was convinced that a serial killer would emerge from a dark, musty bookshelf and stab me, or one of the supposedly harmless bats would turn into Dracula and bite my neck.

But my dislike of the gray, stony atmosphere was nothing compared to my barely suppressed hatred of my classmates.

Most of my classmates were well-to-do, and many were filthy rich. That included the black students, most of whom were decidedly middle-class. My welfare-to-Yale mindset didn't know the difference. To me, anyone who hadn't endured welfare cheese, free lunch, ugly hand-me-down clothes and bus tickets was rich. I couldn't relate to my suitemates' tales of European vacations, and they had no concept of what it meant to work 20 hours a week at a crappy on-campus job only to turn over 1/4 of my pitiful check to Yale to pay for the "family contribution" portion of my tuition.

I chafed at the experience of being a "black girl" instead of a "smart girl." In Detroit, a city that was 75% black, I wasn't judged based on race, except when dealing with Arab store owners and the occasional white suburbanite.

I was judged based on my individual personality quirks.

At Yale, my primary personality quirk was my skin tone. My white classmates, and even some of my professors, couldn't tell one black girl from another. They used our names interchangeably and skimmed over us in conversations, but felt threatened and baffled when black students huddled together at "the black table" in the large, dark, dismally ornate dining hall.

I quickly discovered that college wouldn't live up to my fantasy of what I thought it would be.

I thought that college would mean fun, friends, and most importantly, my first real boyfriend.

I hadn't dated in high school, except for my tawdry sexual experimentation with 40-something Johnnie Walker and a brief demonstration of my new-found oral-sex skills on a boy from down the street.

Yale brought no increase in my dating activity. None of the black boys expressed any interest. Few of the white boys registered me as a distinct entity, let alone a potential mate.

So I threw myself into my books, joined a theater group and wondered how I would possibly make it through a full four years.

By the middle of my sophomore year, I was dating local jailbirds and dreaming of dropping out.

24 comments:

terminal101 said...

Tell us more, I love your prose!

Did you ever consider transferring to NYU while attending Yale?

Cerebrally_Orgasmic said...

Wow baby gurl..sounds horrible..but the fact that you were accepted into Yale speaks volumes..there are so many of "us" that never will see that opportunity..to be accepted into an Ivy League school is AMAZING...I'm proud of you..that's what's real..even though I didn't go to a prestegious university as did you, the private high school that I went to was very similiar to your experience..couldn't WAIT to get up out of that hellhole!!

manje said...

dating local jailbirds, =)
living a life with risk =)

Nana said...

Awwm, Ma. Yale? That's academically great :-) i did 3 years at a private high school... I hated it.. I had self esteem issues, I hated being 'black girl'.. I get how you're feeling, babe.

Cheron L. Hall said...

Amazing. I can only imagine what it was like to be in that type of environment. I cannot wait to hear more...

Nelia said...

I'm interested to read more. Like terminal101, I'm curious if you considered transferring.

I did Ivy League as well, but in NYC. And in NYC, race doesn't even register as a secondary quirk in the academic setting.

Chaotically Calm said...

Being the "black girl" gets really old. Although I didn't go anyplace like Yale (St. Joseph's University) it was lilly. Fortunately for me it was in my backyard so when I left the campus I was again just me instead of the black girl. I look forward to hearing more.

Don't Be a Slut said...

@terminal101 & @nelia, transferring to another college would have required a level of optimism and farsightedness that I didn't possess at the time. It didn't occur to me that any other college would be any better than Yale. I didn't transfer because I truly believed that every place else would suck exactly as much.

Dulce said...

wow lady you definitely kept me wanting more. did you finish there? if you had to give a speech to young black kids about the all american dream from rags to riches to presidential ambitions (Obama) what would you say.

i am definitely going through a lot of changes concerning my definitions of success and degrees. my big dream was to have a bachelor's in nursing but now that i am so close to it and finding that many people with degrees and money are not subtantial beneathe the surface i dont value those things as much as i used to.

i just want want to be free, and feel and share love (and travel) :-)

Queen Lindsay said...

Wow...Yale. They wouldn't have let me in there if I had begged and showed them a boob. From the sound of it, it seems as if I didn't miss out on much. I don't mesh well with the uppity snoods so I would have felt like an outcast.

Nelia said...

Don't Be a Slut : Fair enough.
Queen Lindsay : Your boob comment had me crackin' up!

Marty J. Christopher said...

What??!!?? Don't stop there!! I hear ya about the filthy rich. I went to a high school that was 90% filthy rich...it's tough when you're not used to it, and when you are well aware there are other more important things in the world than some green.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nita, Still laughing about the boob comment.

Race at private colleges, ugh. I wrote about this this summer in my book (howichangecareers.com)

I was the "black guy" at private school only I had the money and the whites didn't. My first roommate assumed I had to be a drug dealer.

Whats with whites complaining about us eating together at the dining hall? I would say, "5 of us eat together, but 3,000 of you are eating together...look around"

t.

Enchantress said...

Wow...what an experience! Tell us more! lol

I went to Spelman and absolutely hated it! I don't talk to many about my disdain for the school because I feel they will think I'm crazy since it's regarded as one of the best colleges to go to; not to mention it's an HBCU and my word WE better NOT say anything negative about them.

*Waiting on your next post...*

Manchild said...

Hello Queen,

Your writing speaks for itself. Your life was tailor-made for the big screen.

Quick question. What was the most important "life lesson" that your college experience taught you about yourself?

As a sign of respect, I tip my hat to you.

Manchild

mr. nichols said...

I went to a private school for my first two years in high school. Never again.

jb said...

Anita, just stopping by to say hello. I'm sorry you hated Yale & you didn't go on many dates. I would have happily dated you. :)

JB xo

Don't Be a Slut said...

Hey, everybody. Really surprised at how many of you had similar private-school experiences.

@JB - Thanks for stopping by. I laughed out loud when you said you would have happily dated me. Totally made my day.

DC DIVA DATING ADVENTURES said...

Wow. Amazing. Yale...I never had the "guts" to app0ly to an ivy league because of finances, although I may have been able to slide, sneak, or run in if no one was looking, seeing as how I did really well in high school.

Instead I settled for a Big Ten School, and loved it 85% of the time...

Drew G (Eden Fantasys) said...

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Passion Fruit said...

I found your blog on Vintage Velveteen...Awesome!

I love your voice and it's been a treat.

I'm following you!

Lex Dras said...

AMT,

WOW... DAMN... I don't know what to say! I am so sorry you didn't enjoy your college experience. You've adjusted now... right?

From where I stand, at least you are not experiencing what I write about in my blog (blog.mamasfault.com) or do I have it wrong.

We'll talk more.

BEAUTIQUE said...

I can feel you pain. I went to a small private college with a lot of wealthy kids. All I can remember is the blood, sweat and tears I shed at that school. I was happy when graduation rolled around. I still think my investment in private eduation was a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

Hey, it is refreshing to hear someone talk about the other side of college life. Since college was the "best time of life" for many people, alot of times when other people say otherwise-that that was/ is not the case for them/you- it is like you committed heresy. But hey, "a great college life" just was not in the cards for everybody-and that's just/it is what it is -whether WBCU or HBCU.That's why I am repeating myself-but I like this article.

Oh, and I went to a predominantly white elementary magnet school with affluent white kids and fairly middle class black kids.Hated it too-and I grew up middle class myself. Go figure. I can definitely relate.

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