There are a long list of fears and anxieties students suffer as they prepare to go off to college. I should know, I’ve experienced those feelings myself. First when entering my freshman year at The University of Hartford and again on my way to San Diego State after deciding to transfer. However, as a young black woman, there’s an additional list of anxieties that have never and will never cross the minds of my peers. In addition to anxious questions like: What if I don’t make any friends? and Am I prepared for my classes? I asked questions like, will I lose touch with my culture? & How inclusive is the student body?
Another question that plagued my mind: What if my roommate is racist?
The experience of Chennel “Jazzmin” Rowe solidified a fear that most people of color have as they enter university. Rowe, a student at my past school -The University of Hartford- was purposefully “poisoned” by her roommate who later boasted of the crimes in an Instagram post. After weeks of feeling unwanted, disrespected and “like a ghost in my own room,” Jazzmin decided to move out.
In the process of moving her stuff, a neighbor brought to Jazzmin’s attention an Instagram post of her former roommate, Briana Brucho. It read:
“Finally did it yo girl got rid of her roommate!! After 1 1/2 month of spitting in her coconut oil, putting moldy clam dip in her lotions, rubbing used tampons oh [on] her backpack, putting her toothbrush places where the sun doesn’t shine and so much more I can finally say goodbye Jamaican Barbie.”
As I watched the Facebook Live video where Jazzmin detailed her experience I was horrified, infuriated even, but not surprised. College campuses across the country have seen an increase in the amount of hate crimes. More and more, those who were banished to soapboxes have seemingly found a stage on college campuses. But students are fighting back. At the University of Hartford, students took to social media to campaign on Jazzy’s behalf. Through their efforts, they informed the media and the world at large about her experience. They then organized to meet with the university president, chief of public safety and other school faculty, to address this incident as well as racially charged incidents where students of color felt unheard and unsafe.
As my former classmates live streamed these dialogues for me to see, it felt reminiscent of the various protests and sit-ins held by black students throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
After a day of rage, disgust, disappointment and confusion, I felt reassured. Something was being done, Brianna Brochu the perpetrator has been charged with criminal mischief, breach of peace and intimidation based on bigotry or bias and if found guilty could face up to five years in prison.
As black students who have left behind the safety and comfort of friends and family to chase our dreams, goals and ambitions on college campuses, our fears are not irrational or unfounded. That said, we can take comfort in knowing our situations are not without hope. In situations of adversity, we do what we historically, have always done: We become, organized whilst offended, inspired whilst infuriated and encouraged whilst enraged. This is the shared essence of being a black student on campus. And sadly, it’s as familiar to us now as it was nearly 60 years ago.
Written by Shamaya Bowen