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"I'm so glad I'm leaving," is the reaction of post-Comp senior Pamoja Burrell to what she described as the "common trauma" of the black experience at Kenyon.
The "trauma" felt by most Kenyon blacks is the social nightmare of belonging to a minority of nine among 1400. Most feel that the forms of social interaction are for them as blacks different from those of white students. "The way we behave among each other is different," said Burrell. "The way we talk, dress, our concerns, these things are for us as blacks different from those of white students."
The "differences" experienced by Kenyon blacks are certainly not radical, but they are sufficient to make them feel apart from the relative colossus of the white community. "most of them have grown up in black communities and attended predominantly black high schools," said Burrell. "The things they do are totally, totally different."
White students feel these differences as well, believes junior Karen Winchester. "They won't admit it. They will talk to you and be very pleasant, but there is always a barrier," she said. "I have a few close friends who are white, but most students here feel us as different."
A deep sense of isolation is the end result of these differences. According to the blacks with whom the Collegian spoke, nearly all blacks at Kenyon feel socially apart from the white community, even to the extent of their feeling socially stagnant. "I'm in a social holding pattern waiting for graduation," said Winchester. "I never felt like a member of a minority group before I came to Kenyon. It is a very bitter experience."
Not all blacks at Kenyon feel their differences to the extent that Winchester and Burrell do. "Blacks who have grown up with whites don't feel as we do," Burrell said. "They feel comfortable with whites and for them Kenyon is fine. But," she added, "for most blacks it is a miserable social experience I wouldn't wish on anyone."
The steady decline in the number of blacks at Kenyon since Burrell was a freshman supports this last statement. When she came there were twenty. This year there are nine. "I enjoyed it when there were twenty blacks here," she said. "There were enough that I felt comfortable and relaxed. Now I rarely do." Of the nine, five will graduate this year. Two of the four remaining are freshmen who plan to transfer after their sophomore year. "I would never have come here had I known it would be like this," said freshman Mphala Mogudi, a South African. "It is inconceivable to me that such a situation can exist in this country."
Twenty to thirty is the minimum number of blacks both Winchester and Burrell believe gurantees a comfortable enough possibility of social choice for a stable black community to survive at Kenyon. "Unless the school is willing to make this sort of commitment," Burrell said, "they should give up the idea of having blacks here at all."
According to Burrell, the only way Kenyon is going to get more black students is through a commitment from the Board of Trustees in the form of more money. Burrell believes that such a venture is not to be expected in the near future. Several years ago, the Board backed a venture which ended in dismal failure: "They brought in any black student who had a B average in an inner-city high school and expected them to succeed at Kenyon," she said. "That was stupid. They brought them here knowing that they wouldn't make it." The Board, according to Burrell, views any effort aimed at increasing the number of black students as doomed to failure before it starts.
If Kenyon wants blacks, Burrell believes, they are going to have to come from the same sort of schools that most Kenyon whites have attended. "They are going to have to come from prep schools and suburban high schools," she says. "Those are the sort of schools that are going to produce black students that will survive at Kenyon." She acknowledges that many colleges are competing for a relatively small number of blacks from these schools. "It's not unreasonable to assume that Kenyon could get ten blacks a year from these sorts of schools," she says. She believes the Admissions office is going to have to work hard to get them, but thinks it is possible.
A lack of concern is the way Burrell characterizes the Administration's approach to blacks. "They try something for awhile and then drop it. They have never had a consistent attempt at establishing a stable black community." President Jordan demonstrates more concern than did his predecessor, Burrell believes, but she doesn't see enough concern demonstrated over the present situation to effect changes. "If Kenyon wants to have blacks, it must offer a social environment conducive to black needs. If it doesn't care, it should say so. But it must stop this middle-of-the-road approach. It's been a good academic experience, but it isn't worth the social hell I have been through."
Kenyon blacks are bitter. They see little if any value in Gambier
[the Ohio small town where Kenyon is located] outside of academics and
they see few signs of any change in their situation. As Winchester
put it: "I feel like a token. I am here for the edification
of the white community and I resent it."