Black Women In The Ivy League: “Everything’s Not Always So Pretty At The Top”

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“It’s still so hard for me to unpack all of my feelings about this place. My biggest issue is that the race/gender/sexuality, etc. climate seeps into the classroom. My issue was that in precepts and lectures, conversations were so stunted and limited. I literally had to sit in classes at the #1 institution in the world and hear students talk about Africa as if it were one country (or,  talk about Brown v. Board as if it ended racism.) How can an Economics or Politics class claim to be in-depth if it ignores the fact that the West “won” as an actual political and economic power used to exploit people of color and their lands? My issue is that I truly felt that as a social science major, I received a VERY limited and sanitized education.”

– Anonymous, Class of 2013, Princeton University


A child of the sixties and seventies, I was among the first “wave” of African-Americans to attend such institutions in our nation’s history. At Bryn Mawr College, my class of 200+ women included about 8 other women of color. That said, I loved my 4 years at BMC.  I continue to volunteer — years ago, for the admissions committee and nowadays, for class fundraising and alumnae outreach. At Columbia, I also found much to fulfill my intellect and, for the first time in higher education, I was among a large number of African-American students. I loved the parties and comraderie.  Despite my love and deep appreciation for the offerings of these two institutions, I remain conflicted. I’m thankful for my Bryn Mawr & Columbia education but even back in the day, I saw the blood oozing beneath those elitest campuses, the crosses burned on their Roman classical and Collegiate Gothic style buildings, the whip lashes scarring the European busts that adorned their prodigiously endowed libraries and plush faculty lounges. I knew even then, because my born-on-a-sharecropping-farm-in-Mississippi mother taught me to learn my history. I know that the labor and sacrifice of my enslaved African forebears is the core of those institutions. When will these institutions acknowledge them, name them, honor them?

Luvon Roberson, Master’s Degree (1985), Columbia University


“Being a woman of color at an Ivy League was interesting to say the least. Of course the dichotomy between whether you’re a woman first or a person of color first still exists on campus just like in real life. You still get the Black men who are down for the cause but “don’t get feminism” and the white women who can’t see that feminism has to be intersectional. I also became very conscious of my double identity as both a woman and person of color because suddenly I was having experiences that were based solely on these intersections such as being involved with Princeton Association of Black Women (PABW) or being approached by drunk white men on the street saying they’d never had sex with a Black girl. Things like PABW were a blessing because they helped teach me how to navigate my identity in that way and gave me sisters who could understand the unique women of color struggle. Things like that experience on the street were in some ways a wake-up call like, “Hey, you don’t get a pass on being hyper-sexualized just because you go to Princeton, you’re still just another Black girl they wanna see twerk.”

– Liz, Class of 2013, Princeton University

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