Josh Gaines has a strategy for walking on the Springfield College campus. He believes that there is an unwritten set of guidelines that he should follow to avoid seeming suspicious. He feels that there are certain things he can’t do without being perceived as a threat, simple things that most people who are white go every day without thinking about.
“There’s certain things you learn growing up. I know not to wear all black on campus. I know not to walk fast past anyone. I know to keep my hands visible, and I know to say hi to let people know I’m not someone being creepy or suspicious,” he said. “You kind of just learn and pick up these things throughout life. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. If I’m in the mall, I’ll take off my hat or my hood. I don’t even wear hoods in public places so I don’t look suspicious.”
Gaines, a junior from Enfield, Conn., and three other male students of color—Keith Rodman, Gregory Woods and Caleb Jean—agreed to share some of their perspectives about navigating Springfield College. Their experiences and perspectives are theirs and theirs alone, but they point to some ways in which students of color face challenges that white students typically don’t on this overwhelmingly white campus. According to Dr. Calvin Hill, vice president for inclusion and community engagement and the 2015-16 Springfield College Fact Book, 81.1 percent of Springfield College undergraduates identified as white.
Gaines said, “If I’m walking from the P.E. complex to my room after playing basketball and I’m in sweatpants and a tee shirt or a sweatshirt, there’s people that cross the street and then cross back over when they get past me.”
Woods, a senior, discussed the looks that he gets while walking on campus at night. He described the looks as a fearful facial expression or a turning of the head, recognizing his presence, but neglecting the joyful, welcoming person Woods is.
“I consider myself as someone who is very involved. If you look at me as someone who is dangerous and not a part of this campus after four years [of being a student], it’s kind of a dagger to the heart.”
Rodman, a member of the football team, has had similar experiences, but he explained that he can’t be certain of the exact thought process when someone decides to walk on the opposite side of the street.
He added, “I don’t really know what’s going through someone else’s head, but at that instant when it’s just you and someone else walking down the street, you might see them become more aware while they’re walking or maybe tense up a little.”
Some black males on campus also feel discriminated against by members of the institution who are not students. Rodman explained an incident that occurred earlier in the year involving a security guard.
“I was letting someone into the library and I scanned my school ID to let someone in and then I was followed downstairs by the security guard and he asked me for my ID. I felt weird because I scanned in. It felt pretty obvious that I was being profiled. My mom has always taught me about stuff like that, just being aware of my surroundings. I was pretty pissed off, but at the same time I had to be cooperative with him so I just gave him my ID. I asked him if he always checks IDs like this. He said that he does, but I didn’t believe him because I was the only person in the library that was followed,” he said.
“I can’t imagine how that must’ve felt, you know, being looked at as an outsider especially when everyone preaches family and humanity,” said Woods. “We’re excluding a whole population of people.”
However, not every black male on campus feels a sense of profiling from members of the institution or community. Jean, a sophomore, feels that his experience here at Springfield College has been mostly free of discrimination.
“My experience has been pretty good. Anything that has to do with racism hasn’t really happened to me,” Jean said.
Despite not personally feeling affected by issues of race, Jean has seen friends feel uncomfortable on campus.
Jean said, “One of my friends is…transferring at the end of the semester because he feels like there’s not a lot of black people here, and he wants to be around more black people.”
Before coming to Springfield College, Rodman was aware of the lack of diversity on campus. It really stuck out to him during his recruiting visit for football. He has been used to being around mostly white people since high school, so it didn’t necessarily bother him, but it still felt different.
“When I first came in, I didn’t see too many people that looked like me so it was kind of weird, but we’re all just people, so I’m fine with that. You just feel like you stand out more,” said Rodman.
Woods was aware of the lack of diversity as well, but saw something great in this campus that he couldn’t pass up.
“It’s definitely different. I visited and saw what it was going to be like, but I knew there was something special about this place. It didn’t really matter what the color of my skin was.”
Gaines on the other hand was unaware of the lack of diversity before coming to Springfield. He figured that the city of Springfield was diverse, so the college would be similar. Had he known that Springfield College consists of mostly white students and faculty, his decision probably would have been different. After his freshman year, Gaines was set to transfer due to the lack of diversity.
“I was going to transfer after freshman year to a historically-black university in Virginia, but the money didn’t work out,” he said.
Gaines feels that despite the lack of diversity among the students and faculty, strides are being made by certain members of the college to be inclusive towards people of all races.
“There are black staff here that help us out and make sure we’re handled. Becca Hammond (Area Coordinator – Senior Suites) is big. She’s huge into making everyone feels included and making sure we’re not getting shafted for some reason. There are professors that do help out also,” he said.
In his four years at Springfield Woods believes the college has done a good job accommodating the needs of students of color. He has seen the college become more welcoming towards having discussions about issues of race.
“Issues of race have gotten better. Springfield College has done a good job of creating an inclusion office and really making sure that the needs of minorities are not only met but better understood,” said Woods. “It’s one thing to see the issue and sweep it under the rug, but the college has really addressed it and taken it head on.”
Despite noting the progression, Woods thinks that focusing more on the education of racism in the classroom could be very beneficial. Although it is a difficult topic, discussions and situations that cause discomfort are often the ones that lead to the greatest learning points.
Woods said, “Educating students on racism would be good because it’s kind of the pink elephant in the room especially at this school because it’s something that goes unsaid because people don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The issues that are going to make people uncomfortable are the issues worth talking about because it challenges your ideas and your traditional way of thinking.”