When Your NYU Community Doesn’t Respect You

An editor gives her insight into the viral tweet regarding a racist incident at NYU’s Silver School for Social Work.

Sarah John, Deputy Opinion Editor

NYU is the first community I have truly chosen to be a part of. I love this community, and the people in it. I smile at people in my dorm’s elevator. When I share a table with someone in Kimmel, I strike up conversation. In every NYU student, I see someone who I share an identity with, someone I want to know.

And that is, I think, the reason why I felt like I’d been punched in the gut when I read the racist email sent to a Silver student this week.

The email was sent to Shahem Mclaurin, a first-year graduate student in the Silver School for Social Work. In it, another student stated that they felt more comfortable without a “black presence” in class and “the threat it posed.”

There was something deeply isolating about reading this email. It was from an NYU student — a member of this wonderful community I so desperately want to be mine. Immediately after reading it, I found myself wondering how many other people at NYU feel the same way. For days after, I found myself smiling less at people in elevators. When I sat in Kimmel, I didn’t strike up conversation with anyone. Instead, I began to wonder just how many people would be more comfortable if my “black presence” was not here.

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I love this NYU community. But the shine of being a new, first-year student has dimmed since I’ve learned that there are parts of it that don’t love me back.

Not only that, but the allure of being an optimistic young adult can no longer cover up the fact that I live in a world that does not love or even respect me, and that it probably never will. It was just this month — this Black History Month, no less — that the governor and attorney general of Virginia both admitted to wearing blackface. It was not too long ago that Trump called Nigeria, where my family is from, a “sh-thole country.” The unrelenting pattern has left me feeling remarkably isolated. There is, it seems, no community that fully accepts me — a very painful thought.

I may have to navigate racism at NYU and in many other spaces for the rest of my life. But it is not up to the community to decide if I belong to it or not. I belong to it simply because I am here, and I intend to stay here.

My grandmother never learned to read or write. My mother never graduated from college, and she works incessantly to advance our lives. My siblings and I are the first generation in my family to receive college degrees. I understand that the world is a very dark place. I understand that I may never see a world that fully welcomes people who look like me — people who look like my family, my friends and even my future children. But I also understand that through forces of sheer willpower, generations of black people have been molding communities to offer them a space.

I am here at NYU, and my presence makes some of my peers uncomfortable. They will say or do things that make me feel like I don’t belong. But I am here. And after I graduate, I will go on to better the world, and make every community a little bit more accepting for the generation after me — the same way my mother did for me, and her mother did for her.

That is more than enough. 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, print edition. Email Sarah John at [email protected]

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