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Spotlight

on

Being Black at an Elite PWI

Interview with

Drew Carter

Rice University Student

  1. Please tell us about your life prior to Rice and about any identities you're comfortable sharing.

  I was born in Washington, D.C. and spent the majority of my time growing up around southern Maryland. I

  attended public schools my whole life and consumed the many fruits a public education has to offer.

  Growing up, I was part of a very close-knit family. My many siblings and I were nearly inseparable and we

  spent a lot of time joking around. The lessons I learned from my older siblings are the ones I teach my younger

  siblings, both those I share blood with and those that I have found in my journey as a mentor.

  I was a member of the varsity soccer team for four years. My coach was a big inspiration and mentor. My

  senior year I served as the Student Member of the Board of Education for Charles County Maryland. During

  my time in high school I also served as the district youth NAACP President, and was highly involved with

  mentorship.

  I am a first-gen low-income Black Man. I face the implications of the intersection of all of those identities for

  better and for worse.

  2. Please tell us about Rice. 

  Rice is a private institution with approximately 4,000 undergraduate students. It is located in the heart of

  Houston, Texas. There is no Greek life here: it is just a residential college system with 11 subcultures at each

  college. Sports is at times a seemingly non-relevant component of the university experience, however, our

  women’s sports teams are very high-performing and enjoyable to watch.

  The average income of Rice students is upwards of about $160,000 and the racial composition of the domestic

  students at the school is about 37% White, 26% Asian American, 20% Hispanic or Latinx, and 7% African

  American, with a diverse group of students composing the last percentage. The overall population is

  comprised of about 10% international students.

  3. Were you a Questbridge scholar? If so, please tell us about how that program helped you. 

  I was selected as a QuestBridge finalist and my academic trajectory has since completely changed. I originally

  had intentions of attending college but hadn’t known the feasibility of partaking in a future at an elite

  institution. The nation’s top universities are synonymous with the nation’s highest cost institutions.

  QuestBridge provides the internal support students need to believe in the prospect of attending University

  both logistically and psychologically. I was able to formulate connections with other scholars from across the

  country and I now call some of those people my closest friends.

  4.  Many FGLI students experience culture shock at college. Please tell us about your experience.

  It is one thing to get accepted into a college it is another to be accepted by it. My experience at Rice has been

  an uphill battle attempting to set my feet in a never stopping community. My first few months at Rice I

  struggled to see myself as a true ‘Owl’. The traditions that my classmates fell in love with were the traditions

  that I felt most neglected by. The spaces that my peers felt the most liberated were those in which came at

  the cost of my constraint. It felt as though my voice no longer mattered. I felt minimized to just another first-

  gen low-income minority application that happened to get picked out of a kiddie pool of similarly identifying

  students. I have made strides in finding my spaces on campus but to be frank I still have yet to find my home.

  I work tirelessly to help ensure others have a sense of community and often disregard my own lack thereof.

  The identities that I carry with me are not all physically manifested and I could hide some if I wanted to. That

  would require me to lose sight of the fact that I draw strength from the FGLI community and I could not

  invalidate all that it has provided me with.

  5.  Many Black or Brown students don’t feel welcome at PWIs. Please tell us about your experience.

  I have been able to use my Black identity to leverage my voice in particular conversations regarding

  inclusionary efforts here at Rice. Voicing those opinions and perspectives has not always been met with

  open arms. I would say that Black students are welcomed here with an open door but not necessarily with a

  personalized invite with our names inscribed on them. Many universities are faced with the challenges that

  present themselves when you aim to diversify your student body. Special populations don’t just need an

  increase of numbers if there is no internal or structural support to be there to back those diverse identities.

 

  

  6.  You've experienced the loss of several loved ones while at Rice. How are you able to cope? 

  The most difficult thing with dealing with loss is coming to terms with not only what it means for you but the

  things your lost ones were denied. I spent many days just thinking about the fragility of life, taking things for

  granted, and the privilege I’ve been afforded. Being away from my family, friends, and others intensified the

  isolation I had already endured while being at Rice. At times it felt like I was surrounded by the world’s happiest

  people and their smiles were mocking the inability of my lips to take such a shape. I struggled to focus in class,

  struggled to enjoy social outings, and ultimately resorted to self-isolation. I considered leaving Rice to either

  go back home or to another institution. Through those lows, however, I found support in the faculty and staff

  at Rice who took the insurance of my personal well-being as a priority. It is because of the amazing faculty

  and staff at Rice that I see myself staying.

 

  

  7.  Are you involved in activities at Rice and, if so, which ones? How have they helped you? 

  I am currently serving as the Black Student Association president. I am also serving as a College Senator in my

  university Student Association. Both of these positions have given me the ability to develop myself as a leader

  and an advocate. At the same time, these platforms have given me perspective into the in-depth nature of

  many of the problem’s college students face and at times it can be quite draining. I believe students who feel

  isolated should focus on projects and activities that can be rejuvenating. Social isolation during college can be

  detrimental to the learning experience of a student which is why it is so important to make commitments that

  are fulfilling and complimentary to your passions.

 

  

  8.  You had an internship in Washington, D.C. with U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer. What it was like?

  It was a great experience to see the often gate-kept side of politics. I enjoy doing grassroot work, community

  organizing, and activist work but seeing the internal side of politics was informative. I think it certainly showed

  me that the bureaucracy that comes with that it isn’t for me but I was able to take away a lot nonetheless.

 

  

  9. Was this your first time at the Capitol? What did this internship mean to you and your family?

  When I was a bit younger I would actually walk into the Capitol and give myself a self-guided tour of the Capitol

  Visitor Center (CVC). You can only go so far without a guide but I explored as much as I could as an

  unregistered guest. Walking into the Capitol with a suit rather than basketball shorts, showing my intern ID

  rather than my student ID was pretty inspiring for me. My family has always supported all of my endeavors

  but I know this was especially exciting for all of us. Most of my family members do not work jobs that require

  a suit and a tie and to see myself emerge as a part of the first-generation of my family to do so was very

  meaningful.

 

  

  10. What advice would you give to Black/Brown students who attend elite colleges that are PWIs?

  The most important thing about being first-gen/low-income and/or Black/Brown is appreciating the cultural    capital that comes with it. That isn’t to say you should be grateful for all of the struggle you may face, but

  be grateful for the lessons it has provided. The important thing is we continue to make space for the next

  generation of scholars and provide them with a different college experience. It will not always seem like a

  space is made for us but that doesn’t mean that we can’t make the space we need. We do not have to

  compare ourselves to anyone. We do not have to validate our existence in these spaces. We do not have an

  obligation to solve all of the institution’s problems regarding inclusion of these identities. We are students

  second, and humans first, meaning we are to be treated as such. We deserve caressing support without

  denigration. The experiences and stories we bring to the table are valuable and need to be heard and our

  peers must be willing to receive them.

 

  

  11. Have you thought about what you might do after you graduate? 

  I would like to pursue a career in academia and possibly non-profit political work. I have a deep passion for

  advocating with communities of color and disadvantaged communities. I would like to get a Ph.D. and a J.D.

  concurrently and continue grabbing degrees as I see fit. I want to continue as far on in my education as

  possible so that I can continue to share these academic accomplishments with my family members who may

  not have had the opportunity to achieve them themselves.

 

  

  12. What else would you like us to know that we haven’t asked you about?

  I have found extreme importance in self-reflection and self-appreciation. I often lose myself in my work

  and lose sight of the fact that I have made many great contributions. It isn’t to be boastful but it is to point

  out that many of us feel the constant need to validate ourselves as meeting the standard of what it means

  to be a leader or even a successful student and we forget that we are enough just being us.

 

  

 Drew is a sophomore at Rice and:

 * President of the Black Student

    Association

 * author of a "Black at Rice" essay for

    Rice's newspaper

 * College Senator in the Student Assoc.

 * a former intern with Rep. Steny Hoyer