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Black Female Perspective of “Diversity” Programs: on my first conference project

My personal experience was growing up in an environment that was predominantly white. My peers were white and my teachers were white. From elementary school to high school, I had never had a black teacher. Therefore, the thought of attending a university that was predominantly white did not concern me. After coming to the University of Pittsburgh and being part of minority programs such as RISE and Bridges, I have gained a lot of exposure to other people of color. Although it might seem odd, on this predominantly white campus I’ve experienced more “blackness” than I’ve ever had in my entire life. To be offered these opportunities and have my ideas facilitated by two Black professors is something I never would have conceived of happening when I came to this university. To backtrack a little, I want to discuss the first semester of my freshman year. I took Seminar in Composition Topics in Diversity: Hip Hop Writing, in order to fulfill an English Gen-Ed requirement. I didn’t think much of it, other than it looked more interesting than every other seminar course available. I didn't expect it to lead me to Dr. Scott-- my first experience with a black female educator, a professor who saw potential in me and wanted to nurture it. Meeting a fellow black woman that wanted to support me, who was not my mother or someone I was related to, was a completely foreign experience (a foreign but welcomed experience). Moreover, having positive feedback regarding my writing, something I’m very passionate about, filled me with confidence and helped me grow as a person. When Dr. Scott invited me to participate in The Rhetoric Society of America Conference and introduced me to Dr. Maraj, another black writing professor, it was an opportunity I could not refuse. It provided me an opportunity to write, and to be part of an all black panel discussing concerns related to the black experience. I am generally a reserved person and this opportunity has led me to even greater feelings of affirmation. Prior to college, I was accustomed to speaking in front of white audiences, however it was never about issues or concerns directly related to me or experiences of black people. Being part of this new community and meeting Dr. Scott and then Dr. Maraj has opened my eyes to available opportunities for young black women. It is interesting to think that had I not taken that seminar in composition class first semester, I wouldn't know these types of opportunities for a black females were possible. Being in this position of support from other people of color has helped me feel more comfortable about seeking out other forms of support as I create opportunities for my future. Within this supportive environment I have gained more confidence in myself as I receive assistance with honing my craft. The times I have spent reflecting on the support I received from professors such as Dr. Scott led me to think about college minority programs and what makes them work for students of color, particularly black women. This thought process brought to mind my midterm paper. I wondered if it could be utilized as the basis of my project topic. My midterm detailed how my environment and experiences growing up as a black female, influenced my experiences with Pitt’s programs for minority students, and how it affected how I perceived this new environment (college campus) I was entering. From this starting point, I wanted to know more about how other black women experienced these types of transitions. Initially, I thought about how backgrounds of black females affect their experiences entering a university and how my own background might differ from theirs. I then began to search for literature that matched that concept. However, during that process the topic became too broad and moved away from the initial theme of my paper. After sending the ideas for my research to Dr. Maraj, he helped to guide me in the right direction. Dr. Maraj provided a “What, How, and Why” outline that helped me with zeroing in on a topic and also assisted with organizing key thoughts and ideas. After corresponding with Dr. Maraj, I found that I wanted to capture the experiences of my peers rather than research the literature. Dr. Maraj provided me with the idea of surveying my peers to get a better idea of what their experiences have been. To find out how they are faring, and what type of coping mechanisms they may be utilizing: what are their backgrounds and how did it impact their experiences? My ultimate goal for this project is to identify different ways we can improve the quality of “minority” programs by focusing on student feedback.

Maia Stephenson is a second year undergraduate student in the University of Pittsburgh's Public and Professional Writing major.

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