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Old Gold & Black

Old Gold & Black

Minority Identification And A PWI? Oof.

What is it like being a minority at a Predominately White Institution?

by: Broderick M. Reid Jr. ’21

Being an African American anywhere in this country especially now since it is currently being ran by this current administration is tough. But having to go to school with individuals who finds the president’s ignorance comical is a different type of toughness.” – Mark. 

What is it like being a minority at a PWI? This is the question that I asked four college students to begin my interview process. Of course, all of the interviewees were minorities, like myself, because I have always felt to understand a serious topic like this, you need to speak to someone who is directly affected by this situation and not just associated with it. Among these four students, two of them are currently attending Wofford College located in Spartanburg, SC where the ethnic diversity rate of undergraduate students is 80.4% White, 7.6% Black or African American and the other 12% is dispersed between other groups (Hispanic/Latino, Asian, etc.). The ethnic diversity of Faculty at Wofford is 87.3% White, 8.6% Black or African American, and the other 4.1% is made up of Hispanic/Latino and other groups. One of the students attend the University of South Carolina located in Columbia, SC where the ethnic diversity rate of undergraduate students is 76.1% White, 9% Black or African American, and the other 14.9% consist of Hispanic/Latino, Asian and other groups. The ethnic diversity of faculty at USC is 61.8% White, 17.3% Black or African American, 12.6 % Ethnicity Unknown, and the other 8.3% is Asian, Hispanic/Latino and other groups. The last student attends Clemson University located in Clemson, SC where the ethnic diversity rate of undergraduate students is 82.9% and the other 17.1% is Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and other groups. The ethnic diversity of Faculty at Clemson is 80% White, 10.2% Black/African American, and the other 9.8% being Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and other groups. Although I am African American and a minority, I find this question to be interesting. Why? Because I would like to see how other minorities feel while pursuing a degree at a PWI, like myself. There are three themes that stood out to me during the interviews: experience, the idea of a “white world,” and the proudness of being a minority.

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“Being a minority at a PWI is difficult. I’ve gone to predominantly white schools all my life and that kind of wears on you over time. It’s hard when the people around you don’t see the world from your perspective and will never understand what it’s like to be a minority in a white world. You’re almost put in a box from the beginning and there isn’t much wiggle room in that box.” – Aurora

When I asked, “What is it like being a minority at a Predominately White Institution, Aurora’s explains her experience at Wofford as being “difficult.” Although she has been attending PWIs “all of her life,” that past experience does not make it easier for her. I believe the biggest issue to her is not being able to fully express her views. She cannot fully express these views, because the majority would not be able to understand where exactly she is coming from due to the hardships that she may have endure by just being a minority and that they have not because they are not a person of color. Stephen, and Mark both had a very similar response to this question. 

“It’s so hard to answer this question because I don’t believe I have ever experience direct racism as in someone straight up calling me a “nigger” or tell me to leave because black people aren’t “allowed here”. But I’ve definitely felt racial tension before. I can’t say that I feel unsafe, but I definitely don’t feel 100% safe. I say that because I’ve never experienced direct racism, but I know that there are racist people around because it is evident. So, I just don’t know who to trust.” – Stephen

“Being a Minority at a PWI is interesting to say the least. The first part about it is when you first get there. I feel as though you have this desire to find community. When I say community, I mean a group of people that look like you. Luckily, the PWI I attend offers numerous student organizations for minority students. Just like being a part of the majority, you have a support group of people who understand you and perceive the world just like you. It is hard being a minority for the most part when it comes to being in class. When there is a racial issue that you are discussing, your peers and sometimes even your professor expect you to chime in as if you are the spokesperson for all minorities. I know for me attending a larger PWI, I have an overwhelming number of white students in my classes and I have to try to find that one other black student to feel comfortable and supported. I am not trying to be dramatic, but it is a little traumatic at times.” – Mark

Stephen and Mark’s response to the same question is related to Aurora’s. Stephen does not recall ever having to endure racism, but he is very aware of its presence on the campus. I believe that is how some minority students at PWIs have viewed their campuses. Minority students are most definitely educated about the campus’ history, but they have not personally experience racism. I say “some” because I have indeed experienced numerous racial situations in my time here at Wofford. Mark’s response was more focused on community. As a minority, community is important to most of us. Here at Wofford, I am involved in different organizations because although just like Aurora, I have been around whites all my life. Coming to Wofford was different. Why? Simply because we are adults and we have our own opinions about certain serious matters. Mark feels as though his job in the classroom is to be a spokesperson for all minorities. That is a solid point, because that is how things are in classrooms, meetings, lunchrooms, etc. When a person who is a part of the majority, asks a minority how they feel about a certain topic, most of time that majority is using that minority’s response as a response of the whole minority group. Veronica shines light on this idea in her response to the same question:

Well, there’s actually two different experiences for me. One is a perceived white minority, then the whole Asian American experience. At a PWI, the former is most often my experience and it unconsciously allows me to fit it more and have more privilege. However, once someone sees me as “Asian” or Asian American because I can be a token or have a “different view of the world” it’s an indescribable feeling. But of course, I always vocalized Asian American because I’m SO proud of my heritage. And it’s a large part of my identity. 

Yes, Veronica is a part of the majority and the minority. She mentions “privilege” in her response. She feels as though being partly white is an advantage while attending a PWI. This statement is quite intriguing, and it is raising the question: “Do other half majority, half minority people feel this same way?” 

To add on to the discussion of experience, Stephen and Mark both shared experiences of when they felt uncomfortable and targeted while on campus and via Zoom during this pandemic:

“There was this time I walked into 55 exchange, which is Clemson’s ice cream shop, and there was this really old man, maybe in his late 80s, in the line in front of me. There were about 8 other people in the shop, and I was the only person of color. As soon as I walked in the old man turned around and gave me the nastiest look. I looked back at him and gave a weird smile, but his facial expression did not change. For the entire time I was in the shop this man never looked away from me. I am not the type of person to pull the race card, but I can’t help but think that maybe he was racist solely based on his facial expression and the fact that he continued to stare at me for about 10 minutes straight. There have also been incidents of people hanging bananas from our ONLY slavery plaque that addressed the fact that Clemson used to be a plantation.” – Stephen

“Just recently, AAAS, a minority organization on USC’s campus, hosted their last virtual cookout via zoom for the graduating seniors. AAAS publicized the event on Instagram so that people will know about it. During the event, white students at USC and other unknown people joined the call and proceeded to call every single student on the zoom a ‘nigger.’ Some said: ‘Fuck those niggers.’ While others sat in on the call while in blackface and changed their background to the Nazi Organization’s flag. It was quite disturbing and honestly embarrassing. President Caslen and the student government officials chimed in on the issue and issued a public apology.” – Mark

Racism and the White World

Three of the interviewees mentioned some sort of racism and/or us living in a “white world.” The first person to mention there being a white world was Aurora. She mentioned it in her first answer to “What is it like being a minority at a PWI?” Because of that, I proceeded to ask her to elaborate on what she meant about us living in a white world. I have to agree with her after her explanation. 

The world is ruled by white people. In most countries white people colonized and created empires and whether they are still the controlling rulers there or not white people control everything. Especially in America. They control who goes to jail, who gets money, who gets what job, etc. I mean look at Haiti they were the only black nation able to revolt and most people there live in poverty. Why is that? Because white people cut them off from any and all resources. – Aurora

Stephen and Mark both had something similar to say in their response:

Because white people are in power. A majority of seats in the government are held by white men. A specific example is Clemson’s alumni is majority white men as well. We have had petitions to change some of the names of our buildings from racist white supremacists to some of the prominent black slaves and merchant workers who BUILT the campus. They’re continuously shut down because the alumni who donate millions of dollars to the campus would stop their donations immediately. We recently have some of the names of a few buildings changed from white people to other white people. – Stephen

We live in a world that benefits whiteness. Which is white privilege. I am not going to say that white people do not struggle but for the most part if you are white and a male, you get benefits. For an example, you may not experience much discrimination like minorities do, people do not question your intelligence, your competence, you have better opportunities and resources. – Mark

These answers are all similar in the sense of mentioning white power. Stephen spoke on Clemson’s alumni being majority white men. This comes with power. Why? Because alumni donate to their institutions and with money comes power. Mark mentions white privilege. White privilege, for those who may not know, is the societal privilege that benefits white people over minority people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances. This is an idea that is noticeable in America and especially at PWIs. Aurora also talked about white people having the control. With her response in mind and her also attending Wofford, I asked her: “Do you feel as though whites’ control everything at Wofford? Also, how could we, the Wofford community, possibly change that narrative?” 

“I think that white people control a lot of what happens at Wofford. For example, the AMS house. That house was created for multicultural students (whatever that means) but white people control when it’s allowed to be used. Black frats aren’t allowed to have parties on campus. Because of some incidents that have occurred. However other frat houses have had parties that caused way more damage and resulted in much worse with no punishment, which is white privilege. Whites control the policies and who gets in trouble for what and how much trouble etc. There are very few black professors. Very few black students. The best way to change that narrative is to have black students on different councils and in student government (we made great strides this year). They need to allow the AMS house to be used for social purposes so that white people don’t control every social activity. They need to figure out a way to diversify their executive board a little more.”

I feel as though everything she said is something that most minorities at Wofford may have felt in the past or even feel now. The usage of the AMS house on Wofford’s campus has always been an issue. I can agree with this statement because I attend Wofford. I can also sense the frustration of these minority students with the way that people in power have dealt with this social issue. 


To make light of this touchy subject, I asked each interviewee: “Are you proud to be a minority at a PWI?” After reviewing my notes and listening to Veronica’s response, I should have worded the question better. Here are their responses:

“I mean I guess I’m proud. It’s a great school and having attended Wofford will help me in the future. Socially it could be better though.” – Aurora

“I am 100% proud to be a minority anywhere I am. I believe that attending a PWI is the best protest to people who don’t want us there.” – Stephen

“I am for sure proud to be a minority at a PWI. Most of the people that I know at PWIs say they have gone there just because of financial reasons and couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. So being that a lot of people didn’t have another choice but to go to that school, I think that it’s very important to see yourself represented. So, it’s like me being there and hopefully me being involved motivates someone else who is a minority to follow my lead in a way.” – Mark

“I am skeptical about saying ‘proud to be a minority’ because of course the word minority basically means less than. I do not think I am less than. However, I am extremely proud to be an Asian-American and even more proud to be a Filipino woman. I am proud to be trilingual, and have lived in the Philippines, and understand the country’s history. I am proud to come from a family that values education, hard-work, and familial ties, and most of all, proud to be my mother’s daughter.” – Veronica

Being proud of who you are can help you take strides in life. I feel as though all of these students can agree with that. They seem to all be confident and strong in who they are. Maybe that is all due to the hardships they may have encountered while being a minority in today’s society. No one should feel less than or bad because they are a minority. Like Veronica pointed out: “I do not think I am less than.”


Being a minority is not just a concept, but it is also an identity to some. Being a minority or a person of color is personal, it is powerful, it could be seen as a burden, and it is something people are proud to be. Being a minority is a community in a sort of way. I know that in Mark’s interview he mentioned wanting to seek a community when first attending a PWI. He also mentioned being at a large school like USC, the disproportionate ratio of white to black is so noticeable and so important that when entering class, he looks around for that other black person to feel comfortable and supported. Through my interviews, I have noticed that being a minority at a PWI is not something that we should overlook as people. I feel as though most of these schools in the past have only been opened for whites and because of that HBCU’s have opened up to serve and to be a place for Blacks to study. Because society now tries to correct its mistakes, they develop systems like affirmative action. Administrators at these institutions feel as though they have to fit a quota to not look as they are racist in the public eye, but when they admit these students, they still treat as though they are below the rest. It is quite disturbing that I feel that way and many other students feel that way. We feel that way because of situations like Aurora mentioned. She mentioned how there is unequal punishment when it comes to throwing a party at a school that we all go to, that we all have equal rights at supposedly, and that most of us pay for. It is very discomforting that this is how society is. 

Throughout my interview, I could relate to the students. I’m like Stephen partly because I do know that there is racism present on my campus. I have been in situations and I have heard of situations that is kind of hard to ignore when being a minority. Let’s take Mark’s experience as an example. I have heard of a gentleman saying “nigger.” I heard from others that he did not call someone that in particular, but he still used the word. People always justify their reasoning for using the “n” word by saying that it is freedom of speech. They say this by not even knowing the meaning, well at least the real meaning, behind that word. If they do know the real meaning behind that word, then it is blatantly racism. 

In correlation with these interviews, I see Heidegger’s concept of logos present. Heidegger sees the logos part of phenomenology as being an important part the contributes to phenomenology as a whole. Logos is translated and that is always interpreted as reason, judgment, concept, definition, ground, relation. Logos, according to Heidegger, cannot mean judgment simply because of the theory of judgment. Logos is related to speech: what is being talked about or how we talk about it. Speech alone allows us to see what the thing is that we are focused on. With the ability of speech, language, and understanding each other, I was able to interpret what my interviewees were saying, and they were able to understand what I was asking. With us both working together, I was able to understand what this particular phenomenon means to others. All of my interviewees expressed their own feelings towards this phenomenon and because of this the more concealed the phenomenon became. By logos being seen, it has to have a true or false meaning connected with it. With the logos being true, it has a truth value to it which he uses the Greek word of alethia to correlate. Being true to Heidegger means to allow to be taken out of concealment. To be able to discover something and the only way to do that is by being unconcealed (alēthes). Being false just means to be covered up. Logos means letting something be seen. My interviewees did just that. 

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