For blacks on mostly white campuses, a neew book offers tips COLLEGE ADVISER

September 30, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

Keni Winchester, a sophomore at Towson State University, has never been a fan of "Beverly Hills, 90210." A television show about a bunch of rich, young white kids from California doesn't hold much appeal for a young black woman from West Baltimore.

So when her college dormitory roommates threw a theme party focused on the popular series, she got busy doing something else.

"They wanted to know why I didn't want to attend a '90210' party," says Ms. Winchester, 18, who was the sole African-American student on her dormitory floor. "They thought I was being anti-social. But, I just wasn't interested."

So goes life for Ms. Winchester at Towson State, where only 9 percent of the school's 14,000 students are African-American. She sometimes feels like an outsider -- a common experience for black students at predominantly white colleges.

Life for them is a little like being a "raisin in milk," says Eugene Williams Jr., a 25-year-old Upper Marlboro resident who has written a guide for black college students on milky white campuses.

The book, "The Raisin-In-Milk Syndrome: Ten Survival Tips for Black Students at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities" (Comptex Associates Inc., 1994), was culled from his personal experience.

Mr. Williams began his education at the private McDonogh School in Baltimore and went on to graduate from Emory University. Much of the book was written from things he learned the hard way.

"One of the few things that can exacerbate the trials and tribulations of college life is the dilemma of being a black student on a predominantly white campus," he says.

A tougher adjustment

Of course, students of every ethnicity have to make some adjustment to college life.

But he argues it can be harder for minorities.

"I think that it is really important that we get everything out in the open, that we don't sugar-coat any talk about race," he says.

The 46-page guide includes recommendations such as the obvious: "Get good grades and study hard" to the not-so-obvious: "Never publicly denounce a black student" and "Observe students of other minority groups" to learn from them.

From feedback he's received, the most controversial recommendation in the book seems to be: "Don't be too much of a revolutionary."

"I'm not saying be a punk," he tells critics. "But unfortunately, a lot of protesting and yelling can create more problems than solutions. And you will get yourself labeled as emotional and high-strung."

Mr. Williams also recommends that African-American students involve themselves in campus-wide organizations and activities outside of the school.

It's a guideline that rings true for Kenneth Anderson, a 21-year-old senior at Johns Hopkins University.

"I started out being very unhappy here," says Mr. Anderson, who found himself on a campus where only about 3.7 percent of the students are black.

"This is very different from where I come from. So I'm not sure if I was unhappy because it's a white school or because it is very different," says Mr. Anderson, who is from Memphis, Tenn.

He is certain that joining a black fraternity made him feel more at ease at the school.

"It made all of the difference," he says. "It made me feel more comfortable."

Marcel Braithwaite, a 21-year-old Hopkins senior, generally agrees with what's in the book but adds a caveat to the "revolutionary" guideline.

"You don't have to be a rabble rouser," says Mr. Braithwaite, who is from New York. "But I would never say that those people who take that route don't serve a purpose. Sometimes if there are problems to be solved, different approaches have to be tried and there should be some rabble rousers around."

Mr. Braithwaite urges black students to interact more with their teachers. "I've noticed that a lot of black students don't approach teachers as much as other students," he says.

At both Towson and Hopkins, the students said they don't see overt racism or bigotry.

"I really hear about things secondhand. There will be a white person that you thought was OK, but then someone will mention a comment they heard that person make," says Mr. Braithwaite.

"A lot of black people who come to this school have been around whites and interacted with whites," he says. "But most of the whites have only interacted with other whites."

The African-American students on both campuses say they encounter a lot of ignorance from white classmates.

Steffanie E. Lenz, a Towson senior from Laurel, has a friend who wears his hair in "dreads" -- a style that prompted some white students to assume he was a militant black nationalist.

Many black students also experience doubts about their academic abilities.

Kellie Santos-DeJesus recalls a teacher questioning if she really wanted to enroll in an advanced math class. "Don't you think this is going to be hard for you?" he asked the Towson senior from southern Maryland. "I got an 'A' in it," she says.

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