Inside the 2%

Number one party school in the nation, best School of Education in the country, and the notorious Bucky Badgers are just a  few of the staples of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. . What goes unnoticed, however, are the voices of the black students on campus. According to the enrollment report by the Office of the Registrar, of the 29,931 total undergrad students for the fall of the 2017-18 school year, black undergrads account for 862 of them– that’s 2.8%. With numbers this low, it’s essential that the university provides black students with support systems that allow them to feel included on campus. Most notably, the scholarship programs provided through the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement (DDEEA)(First Wave, PEOPLE Program, Chancellor’s/Power-Knapp’s, and Posse) are the biggest contributors to bringing black students on campus, as well as fostering a sense of community. But, what about the non-DDEEA scholarship black students?


Many students on a DDEEA scholarship can accredit their full-ride for being the reason they’re at UW-Madison, non-DDEEA scholarship students find themselves having different motives. “I didn’t choose UW-Madison, it was my back up back up,” stated Elisha Ikhumhen, a third year student studying Kinesiology, continuing on to credit the influence of his parents as well as in-state tuition as his reasons for picking UW.


Non-DDEEA scholarship students are constantly faced with having to explain why they aren’t in a scholarship program or why they chose the university. “You always know someone is in something…and that’s how you usually know why they might be here,” Tierra Merritt shared, a fifth year student double majoring in Psychology and Legal Studies. Charles Fatumbi, a Minneapolis native who’s in his fourth year studying Industrial Engineering with a Digital Studies certificate expressed a similar feeling, “You meet people and the first question they ask you is ‘What posse are you in? Are you in PEOPLE? What scholarship program are you a part of?’” When asked about the possible sense of division created between scholarship and non-scholarship black students, Tierra adds, “I’ve definitely felt excluded at times because [scholarship students] already had their [groups].” Plenty of non-DDEEA scholarship students struggled throughout their first year to find their place on campus. With so many scholarship groups providing pre-created communities for students of color, it’s hard for non-scholarship students to feel welcomed. Charles’ experience differed a bit, “The engineering campus is kind of like its own world…we have our own diversity affairs office that offer the same resources that many of these scholarship programs do.” Charles also explained how his familiarity with the campus helped him navigate his way freshman year, “I knew about the Red Gym, I knew about the MSC and so those were the places I was seeking as soon as I got on campus.” It seems that as a black incoming student at UW, if you don’t start the year with an acquaintance of the school or a pre-existing community, you will struggle more than most to find your place.


With the development of community for non-scholarship black students progressing slowly, most students don’t feel a part of campus until after their first year. “It wasn’t until my sophomore year…[African Student Association] definitely played a really big role in [that],” Elisha shares. He credits joining the student organization, centered around promoting various African cultures of UW students, as his turning point to feeling more connected to the black community. Tierra, on the other hand, didn’t experience a turning point until later: “I don’t think I [felt] a sense of community until my junior year.” From the re-established Black Cultural Center, to the various student orgs centered around black students, there are many ways for students to get involved.Unfortunately, , without a sense of belonging, a barrier still persists. Elisha reflects on his freshman year experience: “I really didn’t feel like I belonged in the black community…I would go to events, but I just felt out of place… [Scholarship students] spent time together before coming on campus, so that definitely helped them to be more acclimated.”


Some wonder, how exactly are these non-DDEEA scholarship black students affording school? Many believe in the stigma that all non-scholarship students must come from money and are paying out of pocket. This isn’t necessarily the case for every student. Some may pay out of pocket while others depend on grants. Chicago native Tierra speaks on her payment plan, “I receive the Banner scholarship for out of state students who are low-income…” she proceeds to state that without the scholarship, there would be no way of her affording tuition. While Charles’ has received the LEED scholarship, as well as other scholarships from his major’s department, he also gets support from his parents: “My parents help fund me and we’re not on FAFSA or anything. It’s me having to go out and look for different scholarships.” Some students begin school without a consistent plan for paying their way. Elisha shares his financial struggle: “I did get some scholarships but it wasn’t enough to cover everything. I had to take out a lot of loans.” With how common it is for black students on campus to be a part of a full ride scholarship program, the idea of paying for school any other way appears to be unimaginable.


All three interviewed students shared the need to go out of their way and reach out to others in order to make connections. “You definitely have to go out there and reach out,” Elisha claimed, speaking on the lack of outreach towards making the non-scholarship black students feel as welcome. Tierra relates, stating, “I knew if I stayed in my dorm I wouldn’t find friends.” The need to push oneself persists with Charles: “My experience here would definitely be different if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone.”


Non-DDEEA scholarship black students battle with  feelings of exclusion. It’s sad to know a generation of students face this struggle from year to year. While there are programs for non-scholarships to join (Center for Educational Opportunity and Center for Academic Excellence) without an effort by the university to reach out to these students, not everyone will know that those programs exist. Tierra gives her own words of advice for incoming non-scholarship students: “Get out there…even if you’re shy like I was just put yourself out there.”

Damitu, born in Minneapolis and raised in Madison, is a current freshman double majoring in International Studies and Political Science with a certificate in African Studies. Her passions include social justice, the African diaspora, writing, and Beyoncé. Damitu believes that through unity, black students can overcome any barrier.

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