The Life of an African American Student at IMSA

Photo from Gabriel Barletta, distributed under Creative Commons Zero by Unsplash Project.

The following is an anonymous letter from an IMSA student. This letter has been reviewed only for the appropriateness of its language, and no edits have been made to its content, claims, or assertions. The Acronym supports respectful discourse about the challenges facing our community and welcomes comments on this article which uphold that standard.

Submitted By: Busara J.

Hello IMSA Faculty & Staff, Students, and Families,
I am a student at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy and this is an open letter about how it feels to be African American at this school.

I have never felt more “black” in my life. I am constantly reminded of my race at IMSA. Daily, I have to prove that I work hard to be here and that I deserve to be here. Some people on campus believe that I am just here to “fill the quota”. I have to prove myself to teachers and students alike, and it does not stop there. African Americans and Latinos on campus are underrepresented. We are also under-supported in our everyday lives. This is especially relevant in our relationships with some teachers.

During cultural events, many students attend only when they get extra credit. This just shows me that many of my classmates do not really care about learning about other cultures, but rather care about their own grades. When people are not educated about other cultures, they do things that are not acceptable, and later claim ignorance. As a result, I feel unsafe on campus because of insensitive and crude actions.

I felt afraid when I saw that students who posted images of the confederate flag and KKK captioned “white power” and “power to the pales” did not apologize. Rather, they went to other social media sites to say that “politically correct sophomores are taking things too seriously and ruining everything.” Am I overreacting when explaining that I am afraid to live in a place where students make a meme out of a terrorist group that killed thousands of people because of their skin color? Is it overreacting when I know that if I search KKK, there are pictures of black people hanging from trees, beaten, and people standing around their corpses, smiling? I know that the person who posted this meme went through those horrifying images, found just the right picture, edited it and still decided to post it. How can you say it is my fault for being offended?

Telling an oppressed group of people what is oppressive is a form of oppression. I am told that “I cannot take a meme”, but I do not find it funny when every day, both at IMSA and in the world, I have to face the fact that people with lighter skin tones have more privilege, no matter how hard people with darker skin tones work. After all of this, I hear my classmates say that the students who posted these hateful images should not face consequences. They claim that “angry black girls are just looking for something to complain about.” Many people tried to fix the fact that I was offended or hide my blackness instead of understanding me and what I am going through. I feel that people have tried to make me ashamed of my reaction. However, I will never be ashamed of my voice nor of my culture and skin color.

I am calling for consideration and empathy. Even if you did not have a direct hand in writing the post, if you liked it or knew about it and did not say anything, then you are a part of the problem. To the administration: the assembly was held too soon after the event, so the communication to students and parents was not specific enough. The exact images were not described, so students and parents did not actually know what was going on. As a result of the lack of communication, some students thought the punishments for the students involved were too harsh, since they did not even know what people were being punished for. All guidelines regarding consequences are in the Handbook and the entire IMSA community should use this to stay informed on Academy rules. Furthermore, StudCo should not have been in charge of addressing the posts because many people on the board did not know what was happening and, in my opinion, some just did not care.

What do we do now? At the course selection fair, the school should highlight the new Cultural History and Literature courses. Not only should we highlight the new courses, but all curriculums should be more diverse. Furthermore, cultural clubs should be a more prominent focus at club fairs. This will help students become more informed about the opportunities to learn about cultures different from their own. An event like BELLA’S Productive Conversation is a great way to educate staff, faculty, and students alike on the struggles of minorities and underrepresented people. I would like to see events like these held quarterly and I want to encourage the administration to come and set an example.

Finally, and most importantly, please think about how your words and actions will affect other people. When your friends do something that does hurt someone else, you should hold them accountable. Be supportive of both your friend and the community affected by not making excuses for your friends. I encourage you to go out of your way to learn about and show support of a culture other than your own.

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1 Comment on "The Life of an African American Student at IMSA"

  1. It is questionable to complain about underrepresented minorities when you take into account the emphasis IMSA places on STEM and look at the actual representation data. I present the admissions stats and Illinois demographics as evidence of the contrary.,00

    If you look at the demographics for Illnois, Hispanic and Black students aren’t THAT far off Looks like the cause of underrepresented Black/Hispanic Populations lies in the applicant pool, NOT due to selection discrimination. It is far more likely that the discrepancy in representation is due to systemic reasons, so its not an invalid complaint, but rather an invalid target -a single institution can only do so much to attract these students and to accept a higher percentage would compromise the overall quality of students as the threshold to entry is lowered.

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