Being the minority at an HBCU

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Jessica Chaves

Bold, confident, and carefree, Jessica walks into class. Not intimidated by the setting or other peers, her hand is almost always the first one raised whenever a question is posed. She does not think she has all the answers, but several hours a week in Bluford Library does give her an edge.  Sometimes she receives stares and looks of attitude from other girls, but she learned long ago to not care what others thought of her and embrace who she is. Her individuality is reflected in her style of clothing, bright and outgoing. As a Fashion Merchandising major, she puts together outfits that some would never attempt, but that level of creativity is just what her field requires.  

Her days are no different than any other Aggie in Aggieland, traveling from class to Williams Cafeteria, maybe squeezing in a meeting or two, later hanging with friends around the Holland Bowl. Despite all the commonalities Jessica shares with the rest of the student body there is something else keeping Jessica from fitting into the stereotypical depiction of what a student at North Carolina A&T looks like.  

Jessica Chaves is a one of 139 Hispanic students currently enrolled this academic school year in a student population of 10, 554. With a Mexican father and a White/Native American mother, many would think her background would play a larger role in choosing a college. However, the reality of the matter is that while Chaves is technically considered a minority, she does not let that label limit her experiences.    

“[A&T] was the campus I liked the most of the colleges I was considering, and the Fashion program was more detailed,” says Chaves. “I don’t think my personality would fit at a [predominately white institution].”

Minority students on campus are encouraged to use the Multicultural Center located in Murphy Hall as a “resource” and a “home” if they cannot find their place in another organization or program, but that was not a necessity for Chaves.

“I had friends who went here already, and I’m cool with a lot of people now,” she said.     Among her friends, mostly African Americans, Chaves is known to be loud and full of smiles. Being Hispanic does not stop her from having Jay-Z as a favorite musical artist and it does stop her from doing well in classes such as African American Experience.  

“I’m not intimidated by classes about African American history. A lot of the information covered, I already went over in high school because one of my teachers were Jamaican,” says Chaves.

Sometimes her heritage does bring some misconstrued attention when interacting with her peers, like guys call out “hey mami” trying to get her attention, but at most she finds it funny not offensive. Often times she is bombarded her with questions like ‘what are you’, in reference to her ethnicity, but she nonchalantly responds “a girl” because while being Hispanic is a piece of her, it is not the most important one.

“People think I’m mad ‘sidity'” says Chaves, “Then when they get to know me [and click with my personality], they’re like ‘man, I didn’t think you would be like that!”    

Chaves is a living example of Aggie Pride, the standard A&T students and staff lives and works by. Pride is the commonality each person embraces to lessen the differences that would normally divide us because in the end they really don’t matter.    

“I don’t feel different,” says Jessica Chaves, “because we are all here for the same reason, and that is to get an education.”  


Antonio Gonzalez

On a typical weekday, Antonio Gonzalez wakes up around 9 a.m.  He talks with friends on Facebook and Skype before preparing to go to his first class.  Following his morning class he goes to lunch at 12:15 with friends and then returns to his room to do homework and take a nap before his 3 o’ clock class.  Once he finishes with classes for the day, he goes to the Fitness Center to work out or to play tennis with his friends.  After getting dinner in the cafeteria around 7:30, he goes to his room to work on other assignments or he goes out with his friends.  Even though this sounds like the day of any normal A&T student, what makes Antonio Gonzalez unique is simply the fact that he is a minority of a HBCU.

Gonzalez, a senior industrial engineering major who is a foreign exchange student from Morelia, Mexico, said that being at A&T is not the first university experience he has had in the U.S. During his sophomore year, he attended North Park University, a multicultural Christian liberal arts school in Chicago, where he said he made many more friends much faster, but found things to be much different at A&T.

“I have been here for two months and so far it has been good,” said Gonzalez. 

“It has been hard to meet new people.  It’s hard because I feel sometimes a little bit segregated, everybody looks at me a little different because I’m a different guy from a different place and it’s so weird to find somebody that gets close to you and starts talking to you.  It’s unbelievable that I have more friends at UNCG than at A&T and I feel that people over there have been more embracive, more open-minded but I don’t know why.  I have met amazing people here but it has been harder to meet people at A&T than at UNCG. Sometimes people just stare at me but they don’t talk so it’s hard.  So far this school has been great, great professors, but basically the same.”

Gonzalez who came to A&T from the Institute of Technology and Superior Studies of Monterrey said that his alma mater is one of the most important of the 33 universities in Mexico.

“To be honest, it’s easier here,” Gonzalez said.  “Back in Mexico, I’m used to taking four courses and I am currently taking four as a personal decision, but every course is easier. 

Over there it’s faster and more difficult but over here it has been easier, and I think that’s why it has been easier to travel, to go to parties, and have more free time myself.  It’s amazing because I have heard the same opinion from my German friends that are here, the Brazilian, and the Chilean guys.  They all say that here it’s easier and usually people from other countries think that in the States it’s going to be really hard, that the top universities are in the States, so every university is going to be really hard but it’s not and that’s just something really amazing.”

The native of Morelia says that he only speaks Spanish and English, but like most foreign exchange students, he studied English for at least nine years and traveled to various states and Canadian territories such as California, Oregon, Quebec, Ontario and Montreal.  He said that most of his trips have been road trips with friends but he has traveled much more frequently during time in Chicago and in Greensboro because he has more free time than he did in Mexico.

Gonzalez also stated that in his free time there is more time for going to clubs or house parties but bars in Greensboro aren’t quite the same as those in his hometown.

“I have been to Inferno and Mix and other different bars, but when I first arrived here somebody told me this is not Greensboro, this is ‘Greensboring’ because all the bars close at 2 a.m. so that’s kind of weird.  If you go to Mexico, Chile, or Brazil you can party as much as you want, party until the next day.  After I started making some friends, after we go to a bar or to a club we make our own after party, usually in University Square.”

Gonzalez said that one of the reasons he chose to come to A&T was to be in contact with a culture that he was not exposed to before and to “learn more about the history and the roots of African Americans.”  He said that when he first arrived here he saw a play about the history of North Carolina that gave insight to segregation, slavery, suffering, and the leaders who worked to change the world.

“I have been to the memorial building, the Student Union, and when you are in a HBCU you are in contact with that [history and culture] everyday.  That has been good but I wish that people were more open-minded.  I don’t know why that doesn’t happen, that they can’t talk to us and explain to us about their personal experience because I think that’s one of the main reasons that everybody’s here, to be in contact with those experiences, their history, the history of their families.  I really like this place, it has been hard, but I really like it.”


Amina Pasha

Amina Pasha is a sophomore at North Carolina A&T SU from Seattle, Washington. She is a Business Management major who lives on campus. Pasha is part of the campus organization West Coast Aggies. She eats at the cafeteria, goes to some football games and the occasional house party. Amina Pasha is an Aggie; she is Aggie born, Aggie bred, and when she dies she’ll be Aggie dead, just like any other student that goes to NC A&T. On paper, Pasha sounds no different from the traditional aggie. To the eye, Pasha’s bi-racial roots make her stand out on A&T’s predominantly black campus.

Pasha is one of 825 non-black undergrad students that enrolled at A&T in 2008. A&T is an HBCU, Historically Black College or University. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, defines an HBCU as: “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.” 

In the US, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Indians are the minority races, once one steps foot on an HBCU campus Whites join that list and blacks become the majority race. In recent decades there has been an increase in the amount of minority students enrolling at HBCU’s, that is the amount of Hispanics, Whites, Indians, Asians, and “others”. The increase in numbers leads some to wonder what makes HBCU’s appealing to non-black students.

Amina Pasha’s case is an interesting one. Pasha looks Asian, or even White to some people, but she is actually Asian and Black. “My mother is Asian and my father is Black”, Pasha explains.

When it came time for Pasha to decide what college to go to, she knew she wanted to go to an HBCU, “My high school was predominantly Black and Asian, so I was used to being around people of color. I thought going to a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) would be too much of a culture shock. I thought going to an HBCU would be a good experience, and my dad suggested A&T because at the time he was doing business with the school’s Engineering Department. I also liked the size of A&T’s campus as well as the school’s class sizes”

Pasha’s expectations of A&T were few, “I know I don’t look black so I knew some people may look at me like ‘Why is she here?’ at first but I knew I would get over it. I also expected to see more of a mixed student body.”  Pasha says A&T turned out to be a completely different world than where she’s from, but most of the differences are regional not racial. “I’m used to people from the west coast. We talk different, dress different, and listen to different type of rap music.”

Pasha says that she doesn’t feel the reaction from her fellow Aggies was a negative one. “Random people would come up to me and ask me ‘What are you?’ or ‘What are you mixed with?’ as soon as they met me. I didn’t find that offensive though because I’d rather someone ask me than just stare at me and speculate.”

Pasha hasn’t exclusivly dated anyone from A&T, but she has noticed that a lot of the male students at A&T only seemed interested in her because she was mixed; for instance many mentioned how they liked her long hair.

Most of Pasha’s friends are black, “I didn’t come to A&T to make friends with other Asians, that kind of defeats the purpose.”

When it comes to being part of a minority race here at A&T Pasha says this, “Your experience here depends on your attitude. You can’t walk around always being race conscious. Just enjoy your experience and don’t let your race affect it.”

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