Choosing college by major, not race

September 17, 1998|By Tiffanie Mobley

SO WHERE are you considering going to school?"

This was the most-asked question my senior year in high school. Often comments praising the historically black college and university system were followed by how important it was for me to receive a truly "black experience" in college. I was being pressured.

Guidance counselors set up tours for me to visit many of the historically black colleges in Atlanta. I was impressed with Spelman College's philosophy that education is a journey in an effort to develop the total black woman.

Equally impressive was Clark-Atlanta University, which allows students access to the resources of a large university, while maintaining the advantages of a small college.

Historically black schools did have something to offer.

But lost in the mountains of advice was how I felt. I really wanted to go to Florida State University.

The black experience

Then I'd be reminded of the excellent possibilities for scholarships, the opportunity to join an active Greek organization and a chance to "finally see what it's like to go to a black school."

It all seemed to boil down to the common opinion that I had not received enough of the "black experience" in high school.

I lived for 14 years in the large and predominantly white town of Deltona, within 30 miles of both Orlando and Daytona Beach, Fla. I had attended school with the same group of white friends in an area with only a handful of blacks. To many, I may not have had much of a black experience.

My suspicion was confirmed when people began asking, "Don't you want to go to a school where you fit in?" Or "You must be trying to stick out like a sore thumb."

Major concerns

FSU, though the majority of students there are white, had been my first choice for college for years. I was impressed with its communications department and the way it prepared students to launch careers in public relations, advertising and mass communications.

Many of my scholarships were valid only in-state. Most important, there was my dad who, for as long as I can remember, always questioned the idea of segregated establishments -- whether churches or colleges.

"Do people think there will be a black heaven?" he would say.

My father drilled into my head the idea that upon graduation I would be heading out into a society dominated by whites. He thought I needed to get used to that. In his view, the idea of going to a historically black school was a necessity of the past that had lost its usefulness.

I began to consider the possibility that maybe I had been missing out on the almighty experience of being black because I had not been surrounded by other blacks all my life.

Maybe there was really something to the arguments.

Soon, I was questioning my own choices and wondering if my six-year dream of going to FSU was coming to a screeching halt. Would the numbers overwhelm me? Would I be ostracized?

Three years later in retrospect, I understand my dad's concerns.

He simply wanted me to be as prepared as possible for the world, and to some extent I agree with him. On the other hand, I do see the value of historically black schools.

My boyfriend attends Florida A & M University -- a historically black school -- where he has a vast network of black alumni to help him, more one-on-one teaching and numerous social connections.

But I am glad I made the choice to come to FSU. Despite the PTC odds, I chose to stick with my heart. I had to learn to rely on me.

What so many people had termed the "black experience" was what I was living every day. I didn't need a university to expose me to it.

I am a minority living in a predominantly white society and that is the black experience, too: learning to thrive and succeed in the face of any obstacle.

Tiffanie Mobley, 20, writes from Tallahassee, Fla.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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