COLUMN: Common Dialogue Day: Being Black at SHU


On Nov. 12, the Men of Distinction had its breakout session regarding what it is like to be an African American at Siena Heights University. The presentation began with a breakdown of a few ground rules necessary to conduct a productive discussion regarding the topic. They asked that the audience refrain from taking video, be attentive, open and respectful.

The presenters also established a trigger phrase (“Ooh hold on”) in order to prevent any unwanted feelings from resurfacing about any of the various topics.

The presentation itself was designed as an open discussion. After giving the audience an idea of the demographics within the school, Jacob Jenkins pointed out that SHU had “… a lot of black students compared to other universities.”

The first discussion topic had to do with minorities in the classroom. The speaker started the discussion off by asking the question, “Raise your hand if you have ever been the only black student in a classroom.”

The majority of black students within the auditorium raised their hands. This then lead to an important conversation about accountability.

The speakers stressed that it was vital to hold one another accountable within the classroom. They also mentioned that it is important to be selective about the company that a black student keeps around. Many students in the audience also agreed with this.

Jenkins also said, “I don’t mean to be cliché, but us black people gotta stay together.”

Robin Bopeso mentioned that there is a shortage of black faculty members for students to look up to. Director of Diversity and Inclusion Sharese Mathis added that it is hard to find black faculty members who want to work at Siena Heights and live in a non-metropolitan city such as Adrian.

Many members of Men of Distinction and students within the crowd agreed that people like Mathis and DeAnne Perry were the main two faculty members connecting students to clubs and activities.

However, a student mentioned that it was sad to hear that those two faculty members were some of the only two who were concerned with connecting black students to resources and programs. This then led to a discussion regarding holding professors accountable.

Student Trevon Claybourne mentioned that he feels as if “Other students have it easier…” and that he feels like he has to work harder within the classroom.

The group also lead a discussion regarding code-switching, the act of changing one’s vernacular depending upon one’s setting or circumstance. The title of the slide was, “I’m sorry you feel that way about me,” and guided the discussion through the ways in which black people have to alter their own culture and appearance in order to, “… be taken seriously as a professional,” said Havert Beal.

Another interesting topic discussed was the fact that everyone, black and white, needs to step out of their own comfort zones in order to be more inclusive towards each other and be willing to learn and seek out information.