• Ahmrii Johnson

What It’s Like To Be A Black Student At The New School

Committing yourself to conquer the challenges and intensity of a college curriculum is already in itself a daunting task; and now we, as New School students, assume the additional pressure as industrious artists and inquisitive thinkers. What keeps most of us equipped to endure the exhaustion of long class schedules, the undertaking of a full night spent laboring on various projects, and the tension of juggling auxiliary responsibilities is the sense of community that comes with the acknowledgment that we are all here for the same essential purpose of absolute development. Finding a body of individuals that you can naturally relate to, and vice versa, is quite crucial for the success of a student’s well-being on campus, and therefore, their overall prosperity. The students that may have a more difficult time with this than others are the students of color, particularly the black students of The New School. Less than 9% of the student population is Black, and the percentage decreases even more within each school under the university. This isn't merely a number ratio—this is an extremity that represents the contrasting challenges of discovering cultural, spiritual, or psychological support for Black students in their peer group and faculty in comparison to their counterparts. But, what does this report really look like in the everyday life of Black students at The New School?

In the past few weeks of assimilating to the atmosphere of New School classes and observing the flow of the student body along with the faculty, I have noticed just how prominent my race is in class discussions, social interactions, and customary impressions. I am continually reminded that I am not just a student at this school: I am an ethnic, a brown, an ambiguous, an “exotic”; a black student, at The New School. And with that particular recognition, from those I interact with comes various recurring situations. Imagine that in just about every course you take, when the curriculum happens to incorporate the work or experience of Black artists, each of your non-black professors expect you to be the sole representative of an enormously diverse racial community. Imagine recounting constant experiences to non-Black students that pretend to understand history that could never encounter themselves. Imagine constantly having to bite your tongue when a non-black/brown girl approaches you, gives you a dramatically positive compliment about your braids, cornrows, or weave and then follows up with a statement on how she really wants to try that “aesthetic” for herself. Imagine that you spend time with a group of seemingly perspicacious group of people who present a level of empathy despite not experiencing the same circumstances as you, only to realize that in some way they consciously or unconsciously benefit in social acclaim from interacting with you/adopting your interests. Imagine realizing that these people look for your approval of certain ideas, interests, perspectives, etc. for the same favor. Imagine that your non-black professor insists that the entire class of non-black/brown students use their research on spiritual ceremonies, intricately tied to one’s cultural practice, to be appropriated and downgraded to a performance as an assignment. Imagine that you’re surrounded by people who vigorously promote and superficially flaunt a cultural practice that stemmed from the hardships your ancestors had to (and you presently) endure, like street wear and hip-hop culture… For my fellow black students, we do not have to imagine these very few examples of uncomfortable circumstances because we live them and many more on a daily basis.

Although The New School was founded on the premise of social justice, cultural tolerance, and progressive activism, its reality is that this institution, though more tolerant than others, remains largely dismissive of the devalued environment it has left for its black and brown students. Why are courses with a heavy concentration in the history and expressive experiences of the black community taught by non-black professors? Why are there so few black professors teaching at The New School in general? Why are the students of color who profoundly rely on the environment of the school’s Student of Color Space being denied access to it? I call for the acknowledgement of the disparaging neglect of a community of students that, although small in population, contribute substantially to the artistry of The New School.

A think piece for The New School's Alchemy Magazine:

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