On April 28, 2017, Netflix released its first episode of the long awaited series adaptation of Dear White People, chronicling the navigation of the fictional Winchester University’s black students throughout their all-white institution. Naturally this was a hit with our little liberal arts university in the corner of Florida; our inaugural Black Student Union, especially, found laughter and even the smallest feeling of solidarity from the screen. We felt the joys of seeing our representation, the pain in relating to their story arcs, the anxiety from foretelling their climaxes. We also felt deja vu.
The year before, my friend Paul and I became the first black student body presidents of our university as juniors and were joined by a diverse group of more-than-capable Vice Presidents. Elated as we were, our experiences were eventually muddled by a questionable (at best) impeachment attempt we were quick to identify as biased once it became apparent. After a year of consistent struggles under our belt, we decided not to rerun as senior year students. The toll became unnecessary and we continued our academic pursuits otherwise.
In early July 2017, myself and my peers in the New College Student Alliance attended the Presidential Leader’s Summit in Washington D.C. in our final act as presidents of our student government. Though outgoing at the time, my co-president and I chose to support the incoming president as best as we possibly could after knowing the year of difficulty she had ahead. As such, we set out to enjoy the D.C. trip and conference as our proper swan song. It pleased us to show up to what was a conference room of many represented faces, where several other students of color represented their universities as presidents and vice presidents. Eager to share our experiences with them, we soon found out that we avoided the most belligerent of examples: nooses, bananas and microaggressions alike followed in the stories we were told.
Students of color may be attending American universities in larger numbers than many years before, but the forces that have hindered them are not always silent. As Charlottesville before has proven: every university knows it has ‘the black kids’, and those kids know when the deal is raw. As my senior thesis, I've decided to document these experiences from student leaders across the country in a film proudly called, Sincerely, the Black Kids, sponsored by the Sarasota Film Festival.
The goal of this film project is to follow some of these active student government leaders at major universities, some of whom I’ve met and others I am bound to meet, and collage our stories. We will visit the small and intimate campus New College of Florida, the home campus where the project was conceived, and follow their own campus climates through the Black Student Union. The story will then move to Delmar Fears with the BSU and Million Hoodies chapters at Cornell University, who very recently occupied their campus in response to the racially charged mugging of a student. Then, we visit American University, whose election of their first black presidents in the heart of the nation's capital sparked . Finally, we will end up at Clemson University, looking at how deeply their campus climate has been affected by the near-impeachment of Vice President Jaren Stewart. Through profiles of perseverance, we aim to capture on camera the stories of ‘the black kids’ in each of these universities in their own words as they share with us the trials of their own transitions to (black) power.
Videographer Eduardo Correa and I will be hitting Washington DC, Clemson, SC and finally Ithaca, NY over the course of this week as we interview a host of past and present student leaders in the twilight of their government experiences: Raina Senae, Jaren Stewart and Delmar Fears included. First stop: Devontae Torriente of American University. Stay tuned, y'all! (Maybe next time it won't look like I was running out of time on the hotel computer).