Summer Enrichment and Anti-Blackness

Author: TZ

Firstly, I would like to say that it is great to be writing for the Double Consciousness blog again. I hope that as a reader you are enjoying all of the pieces on this blog, as well as understanding why a medium of expression like this is necessary for Black college students. Beyond that, I will get right to it because I have a lot to tell you all about!

Summer Enrichment and Anti-Blackness

So that we are all on the same page, I will define two terms that are necessary for a comprehensive understanding of this piece:

Summer Enrichment: a productive experience (sometimes academic) outside of classroom that goes beyond the traditional school curriculum [1].

Anti-Blackness: resistance or antagonism to Black people or their values or objectives [2].

These are basic definitions and they can surely be elaborated upon more, but for a basic understanding I think that they do well.

What could these two concepts possibly have to do with each other? 

Well, my summer enrichment experience was eye-opening, beyond the research that I conducted, I experienced anti-Blackness coming from people of color. Not that it is rare to have such an experience, but the environment that I was in was not one that I believed should have fostered those types of anti-Black interactions. Nonetheless, it happened and not only am I over it, but I am now simply underwhelmed by anti-Blackness because I realized how it is rooted in everything that this country stands for.

I spent my summer at the beautiful University of Iowa campus, in Iowa City, Iowa. I was a part of a program known as the UIOWA SROP (University of Iowa Summer Research Opportunities Program). This program is a part of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation’s (CIC) way of increasing the number of underrepresented students that pursue graduate study and research careers [3]. Every summer, most of the Big Ten universities open up their campuses to students from all across the U.S. as well as Puerto Rico to conduct research and engage in enrichment activities that serve to mock the life of a graduate student.

I worked in a laboratory in the College of Pharmacy, in the department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics. Specifically, under the division head of Medicinal and Natural Products Chemistry. If you’re really into the chemistry and clinical relevance of what I was working on, you should check out my abstract [4] (open the link and click on ‘2015’, then ‘Bettine Gibbs’). I’ll keep it short and simple here though, I was working on synthesizing derivatives of a molecule called Triphenylphosphine. I structurally changed the molecule and my colleagues will determine if those structural changes are clinically relevant as well as safe enough to move on to the next stage of the process. That is all I can say for now and maybe I will have an update in a few months.

I successfully completed my project and developed a great relationship with my mentor himself, and his lab as well. The graduate student I was working with was awesome! Initially, I was not comfortable there. I will not lie, it is very intimidating to be in a space with graduate students in a field that you may pursue and not seeing anyone that looked like you in that laboratory. Not being able to relate to the stories they tell, or the music that they play. Feeling socially ostracized, because what you think is cool, will be considered ‘ratchet’ or ‘ghetto’. There were many instances where ‘ratchet’ and ‘ghetto’ were used to describe something that was ‘broken’ or ‘disheveled’. I got past that, as I always do. Academic settings are the most notorious places for anti-Blackness to rear its ugly head.

I stopped doing my awkward ‘nervous’ laugh that I usually do when I should really be calling people out on their bullshit. I won’t say that I started calling people out right away, but I didn’t stand for the usual nonsense that is allowed in academic settings. I also took the time to talk to a few peers in the program about this and we were all having similar experiences. It was not a good thing that we were all experiencing that, but it made it less personal for me and I realized that this was a fight that I wouldn’t have to fight alone.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed my time in that lab and I feel like I know so much more about small molecule drug synthesis and research in general. The graduate student that I worked with probably had a different perspective of Black people after working with me. It was a great learning experience for the both of us. I recommend that all Black students engage in some sort of summer enrichment/research. You will not learn everything that you need to know in your textbooks, you will make up for what was not taught and what you do not have a full understanding of in experience. This was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Regardless of if I am able to participate in a program like this again, the UIOWA SROP experience and squad will always be near and dear to my heart.

Furthermore, although seemingly inconvenient, the programming that we did outside of our research was more than necessary and relevant, I came to find. We did a series of workshops on social justice issues, academic financial literacy, and ‘how to’s’ for: interviews, networking, and everything Ph.D. related. I was exposed to a lot of material for the first time, but I was also reminded of things that I may have taken for granted. I was also counseled on pursuing my graduate education, and created a very viable step-by-step plan for how to do so. I don’t know how other SROP’s are ran, but I do believe that this programming was an integral part of the experience for many students.

This summer was a difficult one for Black people. Every day is difficult for Black people, yet this summer was riddled with more anti-Blackness and racism than what I would experience in a semester at the very white and anti-Black, Butler University. The UIOWA SROP team of graduate assistants and program directors took that into consideration and the programming was geared toward helping Black students and students of color understand and cope with the condition that our society is in.

If you don’t get it by now, a lot of the programming lent itself to the topics of RACE and RACISM, and our all-time favorite…CODE-SWITCHING. Myself, identifying as a queer BLACK female of 19 years, and some days I might even say, ‘an intellect’, found these conversations engaging and even therapeutic. I had always liked to think that most Black students and students of color were WOKE, but these conversations proved me wrong.

I bumped heads with a few people and I would have had all of my professionalism points snatched if I was at good ole Butler, but I was not there, so that is cool. I was really taken aback by one of my peers who originally thought that all of the programming was irrelevant and would not help her be a better medical professional. I will always remember a conversation between her and a few of my other peers about Black men and how she would not consider dating them because they are ‘ill-mannered’ and ‘scary’, as well as the comments about the Black soap a few of us were using, looking ‘disgusting’, oh and the really rude manner in which these comments were made. When we had discussions about the effect of racism in academia, it was denied that the systematic racism holds Black students back and makes it difficult for them to graduate. I could go on and on, but I do not want to throw my peer under the bus. Let us just say that there was a lack of understanding and sensitivity when it came to Black people and their ‘things’.

HOLD ON, do not get too upset. There is a light at the end of this tunnel. We schooled her. We schooled her to the point that she was silent for a week. It was harsh, but it was necessary. Do you think I took my ass from Indiana to Iowa to deal with some more anti-Blackness? Hell naw I did not. I went to Iowa to do some chemistry and be around Black people. It was a self-care trip for me. I needed Black people and I needed chemistry. I might say I was the most straightforward I had ever been in my entire life. I was pissed. I do not care if you do not want to claim it, but there is a possibility that you are a part of the African diaspora, even if you solely identify as ‘American’ rather than Puerto Rican. You are NOT white though, and for you to act like a spoiled ass white kid is NOT okay.

I got all of that out and learned a lot from that part of my experience as well. She and I had some serious talks and ending up apologizing to each other. I didn’t apologize for what I said, I apologized for the way I said it. When it comes to most things I fail to realize that “common sense ain’t so common”, and I have sense remembered that it is not common at all. I am glad that we crossed paths, every opportunity is a learning experience.

Anti-Blackness does not just come from white people, it can come from people of color and it can come from Black people. While we are so busy policing ourselves, we must realize that some of the things we say are anti-Black and hinder our Black excellence and subsequent ‘glo-up’. In realizing what anti-Blackness is, we DO NOT have to explain it to everyone, that is not a requirement. However, if you feel obligated, here are a few links to help you out. [5]

I want you to take three things away from this post though, I’ll just wrap it up here:

  1. As a Black student, I personally feel that it is in your best interest, regardless of your major, to apply to and hopefully experience an undergraduate research opportunity program. The link for the CIC opportunities is above and the UIOWA SROP website is linked to my abstract, above as well. Check those out and ask me about anything regarding those programs. I will be applying to another one soon, we can work on those applications and essays together, family.
  1. In the midst of navigating academia, do not forget about your sanity. Self-care is important. It is way too often that I find myself ‘out of it’ and that is not okay. Talk to someone, even if it has to be me. Hit someone up and just let it out, because it is awful once it builds up and you explode. Do not lose opportunities and burn bridges because you exploded.
  2. As Black people, our agenda will not always be synonymous with that of different people of color. Honestly, as a people we are not all on the same page about our agenda, so do not even make the mistake of jumping to the conclusion that people of color are on the same page as you.

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