Campus view in '84

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

This June Ohio's Oberlin College will graduate more than 700 students. Among these will be Lisa Washington, Jill Foster, and Lisa Ridley. Born in the midst of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, these three seniors have not experienced segregated public schooling, ''Jim Crow'' in public accommodations, or a time when women could not vote. Nor is it unusual today to be a black woman college graduate: More than 600,000 have BA degrees.

And yet even in 1984 these women view themselves as pioneers against racism and, to a lesser extent, sexism. As Lisa Ridley explains, ''There are still a lot of firsts - there's no shortage!''

When Miss Ridley, an economics major from Mequon, Wis., was invited into the honors program, she was unaware she might be the first black Oberlin student to complete economic honors. ''You stumble on these 'firsts' without even trying,'' she observes wryly. After graduation in June she will be a trainee in management information systems with the prestigious investment-banking firm of Morgan Stanley on Wall Street. She ley admits, ''There are more options today than 100 years ago. But there are still obstacles. . . . Maybe the frustrations are greater because there are so many options.''

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Jill Foster, a premedical chemistry major from Silver Spring, Md., and one of two black students among 30 graduating in that field, jokes about how few black classmates are willing ''to do such an insane thing as be a chemistry major!''

More seriously, she admits to taking the ''science track'' in a good suburban high school and to being well prepared for this challenging area. But she was ''determined to be a chemistry major even if it took extra semesters to graduate.'' Sometimes she envies other students whose parents have strong science backgrounds. Her parents did not. But they did give her a chemistry set as a child, and they instilled in her their philosophy: ''There is nothing you can't do.''

Lisa Washington, a harp major from Richmond, Va., and one of a handful of black students among more than 500 in the college's Conservatory of Music, finds that most of her black and white classmates major in voice or piano. Her interest in the harp began in a fourth-grade music enrichment program of the Richmond public schools. In 10th grade she made her choice between medicine and music, and her parents invested more than $5,000 in a harp for her. They also turned in their old car for a station wagon to ferry her and the instrument to and from concerts. Miss Washington remarks that her parents are ''behind me 100 percent.'' They taught her to be the best she could and that ''if you believe in God and yourself, there's nothing you can't do.''

All three young women are politically active on campus in black organizations.

Lisa Washington helped organize the Black Students' Musicians Guild to serve as a support organization. This group wants the college to recruit more talented black musicians and to take steps to retain these students through to graduation.

Jill Foster, who as a junior was vice-president of the Oberlin Black Science Student Organization (OBSSO), says this group feels introductory chemistry courses tend to leave minority students feeling ''humiliated'' and ''intimidated.'' Her faculty adviser believes inadequate preparation or unrealistic expectations are part of the problem. Introductory chemistry, says the adviser, ''is where premed hopes die.''

Lisa Ridley is on the executive council for Abusua (Swahili for ''clan''), the campuswide black political organization. She is on its subcommittee assigned to admissions. Declining black enrollment is a major concern: There are 198 black students in the student body of 2,600.

The college used to admit and enroll 90 black freshmen, but for 1983-84 the figure was down to 50. Mittie Jordan, specializing in minority admissions at the school, figures more ''elite'' colleges now draw on the same black applicant pool from which Oberlin has historically recruited. She also says black students , like their white counterparts, are now more career-oriented and less willing to enroll for a liberal arts education.

Another concern of Abusua is the hiring of minority faculty, especially black women. In 1884 there were no women, black or white, on the faculty. In 1984 the college has yet to hire a black woman for a permanent position in the arts or sciences, although there is one black woman professor in the conservatory.

Miss Ridley herself is a campus role model for women, because she is president of the senior class. And she is not the first black woman to be elected - the president of the class of '83 was also a black woman.

While Misses Washington, Ridley, and Foster are pioneers in their studies and are campus activists, their views on living in an integrated college environment differ. Miss Ridley and Miss Foster both attended predominantly white high schools. Miss Ridley, who felt ''apologetic'' for her race in high school, has lived in Afrikan Heritage House, the black dormitory on campus, all four years. Miss Foster decided as a freshman not to live in a segregated dorm, although she recently roomed in ''Afro'' House for a winter term.

Lisa Washington, a product of an urban black high school, felt her adjustment to college was as much social as racial. When her family drove her and the harp up from Virginia, she looked at the ripening September cornfields of northern Ohio and felt like crying, because the college seemed so isolated. (After graduation she plans to attend an urban graduate school to pursue a master's degree in harp performance.) And, while she found race ''still a big issue here'' at Oberlin, she feels she is learning to deal with it. ''Sometimes I just have to laugh things off,'' she says philosophically.

All three seniors feel they will continue to experience an ''internal conflict for self and for race'' after they leave college. They want to succeed because they are talented and bright and love challenges. But they also feel they owe a debt to society - and especially their families - for giving them the opportunity to go to college. ''Struggling brings people together,'' Jill Foster explains. ''We respect the fact it hasn't been easy for our parents.'' But, she adds, ''Education is them way.''

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