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Black Siena Heights University Students Reflect on Experiences of Predominantly White School
Participating in a video panel are, from left, Siena Heights students Thomas Lindsey, Tichina Jones, Toni Brown, and Bobby Lindsey, and moderator Kevin Hofmann, right, Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

November 7, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – How do four Black students experience life in the United States and, specifically, in the predominantly white Siena Heights University? A host of experiences, perceptions, and hopes came from a panel discussion, “The World as We See It,” held October 19, 2023, on the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus next door to the university.

The event was part of a series of presentations offered by Kevin Hofmann, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion. The series brings speakers of backgrounds different from those of most of the Sisters and Associates – people of different races, ethnic groups, faith traditions, and experiences of gender – to shed light on a variety of perspectives.

Panelists were Bobby Lindsey, a sophomore from Belleville, Michigan, majoring in musical theater; Toni Brown, an exercise science major from Detroit and Livonia, Michigan; Tichina Jones, a former international student from Windsor, Ontario, in her final semester as a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling; and Thomas Lindsey, an art major from Detroit. 

While the students generally agreed that Siena Heights is a welcoming school, they entered into a heartfelt discussion about the challenges they face among peers who are predominantly white. Much of the discussion centered around concerns they regularly face, of which many of their peers were unaware. 

For example, Toni noted her struggle to find hair-care products made for her hair type. Tichina affirmed the struggle. “As a woman, you want to feel beautiful [and] build your self-esteem,” she said. Not having the right products to help Black women feel their best is a challenge that white people need to be “more mindful of,” she said. “It’s really important to us and how we interact in our community.”

Others spoke of the risks they felt in everyday activities. “Even to this day, any time I buy something, even if it’s just bubblegum, I’m always walking with the receipt” to avoid being accused of shoplifting,” Tichina said.

Thomas spoke of learning from his father about protecting himself as a Black man. “If I ever get pulled over [by the police] I always have two hands on the wheel” to avoid a situation in which he can be shot. “It’s pretty tough to be an African-American because you always have to be aware of your surroundings.”

Bobby noted the same experience of always needing to be alert, especially when entering a store or a predominantly white area. “I don’t want to look like I’m doing something wrong or be accused that I’m doing something wrong,” he said. “I’m always aware of that stereotype … so I always keep it in the back of my mind.”

The students also spoke of the burden they carry as representatives of their race – and their struggles to make sure that they are perceived in a positive way. Bobby said that when he attends certain events, “there are certain things that I can’t wear to them or wouldn’t wear to them because I don’t want to be perceived as less professional or less intelligent than my peers. Sometimes, you have to double-check or triple-check what you wear on campus.” 

Tichina said living like this is exhausting. “You have to really think two or three times about how people perceive you on campus, especially if they don’t know you – whatever stereotypes or assumptions they have about Black people. Do I want to confirm these thoughts?” 

However, other students spoke of the positive aspects of being a representative and a role model. “I want to make a difference,” Thomas said. “I want to be the first [in my family] to go to college. I want to show not just my younger family but others – my friends and other groups of people – just keep going, keep looking forward, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it, you won’t do it, or you’ll never do it.”

Toni said she loves representing her people and her family in particular. “I’m representing my family by making them proud that I can make it through four years of college,” she said. “I love making my people proud, and I love watching my peers proud of themselves – and it makes me happy seeing Black people happy.” 

The students also discussed their perception of race relations in the United States today and whether the situation has improved since their parents’ and grandparents’ time. “I do think the country has changed, but not to the point where race is just obsolete,” Bobby said. “I like to think in this country nowadays that anyone can do anything that they put their mind to, no matter the color that they are … But those systematically built [obstacles] are still there.”
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