What it’s like to be black at Princeton

What it’s like to be black at Princeton
Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University

[Ed. – See also Michelle Obama’s senior thesis.]

“What was your experience at Princeton like?”

The question always stumps me. The simple answer would be to outline the many opportunities for networking, education, and enrichment I’ve received before and after I graduated in 2009. However, a truer answer would be a flat, “It’s complicated.”

I tend to chalk up my ambivalence about Princeton to my experience as a lower-middle-class black woman on campus. It felt like the expectations of the university were constantly shifting goalposts that I could never hope to meet. My introductory-level science instructors would grant me extensions when I was sick from stress, but then my freshman adviser would admit that he purposely told me to sign up for too many classes in a semester because he wanted to weed me out of premedical studies. I shared that adviser with many students, and from what I heard the only ones who received such treatment were minorities.

The university paid for me to go home during an internship to attend my uncle’s funeral, but then my department head essentially told me to get over it when I told him that grieving the deaths of my pastor, uncle, and aunt in one year was making it difficult to cope. Based on his response, it seemed impossible for him to believe that a student could have a pastor gunned down in a robbery, an uncle murdered, and an aunt who died of untreated cancer all in one year.

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