My Journey to Leadership as a Student of Color at a PWI, Part II

Cynthia FulfordAs students of color, we were clearly displeased with the campus environment to which we arrived. It was set up, as most American systems that cater to the white cultural diaspora. In other words, it was set up in a way that would benefit my white peers more. It did not take long for us to start complained among ourselves about the issue. However, only a few of us took the scary risk of challenging the administrators to create a more welcoming environment for us. Of the total 1100 enrolled students, the incoming black student class was a total of 13 (5 women, 8 men). There were about another 10-ish upper-class black students to help acclimate us to the environment.

One of the first things that my class of 5 Black women and 2 other upper-class women did was make a commitment to be a support to each other. When we learned there were going to be 10 new Black women coming to campus the following year, we created a group called BWOC (Black Women of Class, eventually Class and Culture) to welcome them. It was our informal version of a sorority group. Using a script based on a group I “pledged” in high school, we made modifications to create a 1-week process that would encourage the new class of Black women to be a support to each other. We would also serve as Big Sisters to the women in a fashion similar, but different from the four NPC sorority groups on campus. There were some bumps in the road with Administration not approving our informal group, but we persisted. The group was a success for at least two years after I graduated. Many of us continue to remain close as alumnae of the college.

This lead to some of the young men starting their own group 2 years later. However, both groups were a step toward creating our own safe space on a campus that clearly had not done so.

There was a club on campus called Cultural Awareness, Support and Enrichment group (CASE) that was supposed to be the organization for all underrepresented groups. At that time it was primarily Black students and a few women. We did our best to let this group serve our purpose.

I was elected president of CASE and did my best to be a good leader. You can guess, with no leadership background, I had a huge learning curve. We had some great successes as a group, but I will tell you I made the most consistent error that student leaders make. I ended up doing most of the work. I had believed the generally accepted clichés (ergo lies) that my peers were “apathetic” and that “if you wanted anything done, you had to do it yourself”. That is a LIE and if you find yourself saying that as a leader, you must rethink how you lead.

I will never forget the time that the three upper-class students who mentored us the most closely took me into the faculty dining room, the space we sometimes met in as CASE, and laid into me. One of the students in the room had agreed to take the leadership on a subcommittee, but did not come through. We had 2 or 3 days left and the work wasn’t done. So I did it. I did not want to be “embarrassed”. Well, needless to say, I got told off for not trusting the person to do the work. I was told that I was “being impatient”, but I knew the truth. I never told them, but I was hurt. Actually, I was more angry and livid. How dare they gang up on me? I had done the right thing by delegating and following up to meet the deadline.

But what I did next, was that a smart move? ……Find out what happened in the next installment.

For more information on how to secure me for speaking or leadership training opportunities, send an email to me at cnfulford2009@gmail.com

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