by Rana Campbellt
…originally published on madamenoire.com as Women in the Ivy League: “Everything’s not always so pretty at the top.”
This month, countless high school students across the country will be answering college acceptance letters making the difficult decision of what college to attend in the Fall.
If you asked my 17-year-old self the impact choosing to attend Princeton University would have on me, I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer. When I first got accepted into Princeton in the spring of 2009, I was both wildly excited yet undoubtedly naive. I thought I had all the “prep” I would need, having attended a well-regarded college preparatory school in Englewood, NJ for six years. I’d already experienced the doubts from my fellow high school classmates as the news spread that me and my best friend Amina (also a woman of color) had been the only people to be accepted into Princeton from our school. I’ll never forget how one girl made the inauspicious suggestion that we both got in only because we were black. In essence, I thought I had already experienced the “culture shock” and racism that occurs when you take a girl accustomed to a majority minority classroom and throw her into a world where she is the outlier, one of only a few people of color in her class.
I envisioned Princeton as being a place for self-discovery. A place to explore new interests. A place to meet lifelong friends. While all these turned out to be true, I didn’t expect how much pressure it would mean to be part of the country’s elite or one of the “future leaders of the world”(as I had been primed to think of myself during Princeton’s freshman orientations).
The common narrative regarding men and women of color getting into prestigious institutions such as Princeton and the other Ivy Leagues is often guided by words of congratulations, praise, and accomplishments. For the skeptics and naysayers, notions of affirmation action, discrimination against “better-suited” candidates, and non-worthiness often take premise. Take the recent media attention Kwasi Enin, the Ghanian-American New Yorker who got into all eight Ivy Leagues, garnered. I am proud of Kwasi but as an Ivy League alum, I know that whatever decision he makes, he is about to embark on a long journey which may be filled with justifying his presence to both himself, his peers and outsiders. I can only imagine how this will inform his sense of self. Even more, he is still a black man to larger society (despite how he self-identifies)… and we all know being a black man in America is difficult enough.
As for me? I do not regret attending Princeton…