the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
I was almost positive that I was going to Howard for a semester when I heard about Columbia’s domestic exchange program in fall of 2009. Then I went to the info session and heard about Spelman, and my thoughts changed.
All I needed to hear was “nurturing and affirming,” “Southern hospitality,” and “Soul Food Wednesdays” to make up my mind. As a historically African-American, all-women’s college in Atlanta, Ga., Spelman was just the change of pace I needed: a culturally affirming environment full of Southern comforts, warmth, and high expectations. The concept of Spelman being built “with us [African- American women] in mind” was echoed throughout my semester there, and I felt the power of being at an institution whose history included my identity. My only concern was trying to obscure the fact that I was an exchange student as much as I could. I wanted to immerse myself fully.
There was a game of Spades going at one table, and a few people stood near the snacks and drinks. Another few stood with eyes fixed to a flat screen with some video game I wouldn’t pretend to know how to play. It was late on a Friday night, and about 30 students from Spelman, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University had gathered. I went up to a few pockets of people and asked, “Does anyone want to play Taboo?” At any other event that late on a Friday night, the question would have been lame or absurdly PG, but it was the newly formed AUC Unity for Christ’s first kickback.
I got a few takers, and before long, we were laughing, telling jokes, and shouting, “They’re cheating!” about the other team. We hurled out the most random guesses we could in pursuit of victory. Kirk Franklin and Hezekiah Walker songs played from someone’s iPod, and midway through the game, someone put on “Cupid Shuffle,” and everyone went out to the floor for a series of line dances. Before it was all over, two student leaders called for a group prayer, and as we all stood in a circle, I took a quick peek around before we bowed our heads. So much was affirmed for me in that moment and during that night. Finally I had found a group of peers who didn’t look at me as if I belonged in church with hat-wearing grannies. Inclusion so maddeningly beautiful didn’t need to be tempered with any talk of my exchange student status.
In class, we watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” and then linked its relevance to her novel Purple Hibiscus to discuss the perplexing conflation of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman as historical figures. We analyzed the impact of educators from John Dewey to Marian Wright Edelman. The conversations often hit home, and the urgency to uplift or to educate or to change was underscored by notes of unity and community. Scribbling down assignments in my notebook, I felt little need to reveal my outlier status amid all this talk of community.
But eventually I couldn’t avoid the unavoidable.
“Hi, my name is ________.”
“Hi, I’m Kelicia. Nice to meet you.”
“What’s your classification?”
It was a few months into the semester, and I was standing in a hotel room with three other girls for Spelman’s Washington, D.C., Student Governing Board spring semester trip. By this time I knew to answer the once-confusing “classification” question with “junior” without hesitation.
“Which dorm do you live in?”
This question was easy to answer, too. I readjusted myself on the freshly made hotel bed.
“Hey, so you said you’re a junior?”
I nodded as I munched on some snacks, but I was starting to feel the suspicion rise. Our trip schedule was packed with special events aimed at connecting Spelmanite students to Spelmanite alumnae, and I just wanted to get to the sisterhood networking part and out of this hot seat.
“That’s strange, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before this weekend.”
“Yeah… ” I trailed off, but before I could really respond—
“Oh, she’s an exchange student from Columbia,” another girl answered.
Really? She couldn’t just let me say it myself?
It wasn’t that no one knew I was an exchange student. Actually, quite a few people knew, but the vast majority was on a need-to-know basis. Alas, on this quintessentially Spelmanite trip, the cat was out of the bag: I was an outsider. I was not the Spelman sister with a freshman dorm to represent or orientation stories to tell or a Morehouse brother to talk about. I was just a visitor.
Then that was it. They moved on to a conversation about people and events that were special to their world, but I lay back on the bed and zoned out into feelings of overexposure. The rest of the trip was full of Spelmanite love, but my subconscious worried that maybe the stakes had changed.
A year later I found myself attending a Trayvon Martin support rally during a weekend visit to the University of Michigan. Since my few sweatshirts were hundreds of miles away, I walked up to a student organizer handing out hoodies.
“Hi, you need a hoodie?” she asked.
“Okay, UMichigan or Spelman?” she held one in each hand.
“Spelman!?” I squealed, unable to suppress my surprise.
“Are you a Spelmanite?!”
I immediately stumbled on my words, “Well, um, not exactly… I actually did the domestic exchange there, and I loved it, but I actually go to Columbia—“
“So yeah, you’re a Spelmanite!” She reached for a hug. I squeezed back tightly. She asked about my experience at Spelman and at Columbia and visiting UMichigan thus far, so I slid the sweatshirt around my torso, rolled up the powder-blue sleeves, and spoke freely. No omissions needed.
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