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A letter to my white classmates

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Black Student in Class

I’m your classmate, and I’m Black. I was Black before I enrolled, and I will be Black after we graduate.

Can you count how many Black classmates you’ve had throughout the years? Can you name them? I can count how many Black students I’ve laid eyes on during my time on campus, period. I can’t count how many white classmates I’ve had, because that number is nearly all of them. And it would take too long.

How about faculty—when’s the last time you had a Black professor? When’s the last time you had more than one Black professor in the same semester? Has that ever happened? For me, between undergrad, a masters program, and law school, I’ve only ever been taught by two Black professors. That’s 16 semesters, roughly 80 courses, and only two of those had direct instruction from a Black faculty member. There are 6 years and 2 degree programs between those two classes.

If my other Black classmates are anything like me, we’ve attended PWIs for the entirety of our academic career. For a lot of us, that may stem all the way back to primary school. We’re used to being The Only™ in the room on any given day. I’m acutely aware that on the days when I am absent, it is almost guaranteed that in the majority of my classes, there will be no other Black person present.

Have you noticed?

When’s the last time you were the only white person in the room?

I say all of that to say, I get how you could feel uncomfortable with making a statement right now. But the problem with your discomfort is that you know too much. You learned a lot before me, and you learned a lot with me. You learned how to question statistics and the controlled samples from which those percentages are calculated. You learned the ins and outs of the system Black people and our allies are fighting to change. You even learned that regardless of whether I was your classmate, you still would’ve learned it.

And let me be clear when I say “change.” Black people are fighting to change the system and even dismantle it, not reclaim it. The system wasn’t built for us, nor was it built with us in mind let alone at the meeting. And when I say “system,” I’m including the physical institution you and I attend and the government that regulates it.

For you to disagree with that isn’t a difference in opinion—it’s a confession that you didn’t do your reading assignments. I know this because we read those books and took those classes together. Whether or not our names appeared on the same roster and our required textbook was printed by the same publisher, I learned on paper why this country is in turmoil for people who look like me before the social media platforms where we post the hashtag filed the trademarks for their company name and before the smartphone you’re reading this on had the app to follow it. So did you.

You might as well just hang up your tassel and hood now, because for you not to acknowledge that your 4 to 10 years of higher education didn’t teach you that racial inequality still exists to the detriment of your classmates and their families is a real shame. What’s worse is that you’re admitting that during those 4 to 10 years, when you sacrificed time and money and went into six figures of debt, you never learned how to research something you don’t understand.

Unless you want to be included in the chapters where students learn how messed up the laws were that preface the current sort-of-but-not-really-better laws that the authors explain how there’s no reason for it to be like that in the notes, I encourage you to speak up now. Otherwise, you’ll be the one who the next generation of students reads about, shaking their heads saying, “Dang, that’s crazy and I can’t believe it was like that.” You know, the same thing you did last semester during those lectures.

I was there, were you?

You and I both know you want to be on the right side of history and you know how to make moves to do it. So, if you could help out your Black classmates and demonstrate that they’re not alone by drawing attention to the problems and solutions we paid $1,500 per credit hour to analyze, we would greatly appreciate it. Don’t forget to check your sources and ask for help when you need it … but you already paid good money to know that.

If you want to be a part of the change, start by speaking up for your Black classmates even when they’re not around. If you question why we’re so sensitive about systematic racism, ask yourself why you aren’t sensitive, too. Being an ally isn’t just about performative activism online—being an ally is continuing to stand up for us when your friend, family member, and colleague uses language masked as a joke to degrade your peers.

We want you to speak up for us in public, but we need you to speak up for us in private more.

And if you want to know what your Black classmates are feeling and what would make the most impact for them right now, reach out to the ones who are tirelessly spreading the message for you read.

For information and resources to begin educating yourself, go to blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#educate.

Other compilations of resources can be found at:

Remember: this is still an issue when the cameras aren’t rolling. Let’s get to work.

Black Lives Matter,

Your Black Classmate

Grace Williams Grace Williams is a 3L at Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, pursuing a legal career in the areas of dispute resolution, tax law, public policy, and small business formation. She received the CALI Excellence for the Future Awards in Commercial Transactions and Remedies as well as Outstanding Student Representative for the 2018-2019 school year.