The Black Experience at Kent State

Felicia Guadagni

As Black History Month is coming to an end, eight Kent State students have illustrated both the positive and negative situations and feelings associated with being a minority on campus.

Each student also reflected on the meaning of Black History Month. Some common themes included consideration, education and celebration.

All of the students agreed that the African-American representation through student organizations at Kent State have had a positive effect on their college experiences; however, some of these students have also brought to light their experiences with prejudice due to the color of their skin. For some, a negative situation stuck out clearly in their memory and was easy to recall. But for others, remembering a negative experience was more difficult and took much more thought.  

While society has come a long way, it is clear there is still improvement to be made both on and off campus. 

Kevin Otubu

Black History Month serves as a time to reflect on the past and the present. In recent months, the Ferguson shooting case caused a nationwide controversy. For Kevin Otubu, a junior entrepreneurship major, his most positive experience as a black student at Kent State involves this case.

“After the Ferguson shootings, we had a silence march on campus,” Otubu said. “So many organizations and people were involved. Being a part of that was really positive.”

A native of Schaumburg, Illinois, Otubu is the director of programming for Undergraduate Student Government, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Order of Omega as well as a peer mentor for the College of Business Administration. Although heavily involved in on-campus organizations, Otubu still sees a gap in minority students’ opportunities.

“I think a student who’s a minority student isn’t as favored to succeed as other students,” Otubu said. “And they (minority students) are underrepresented at school.”

However, Black History Month helps raise awareness of black history, past and present. Otubu describes a time early in his education when he first learned of various things people use everyday that were made by African-Americans. That experience has stuck with him.

“There’re a lot of things people don’t know, and there’s always something to learn,” Otubu said. “It helps to teach as many kids as possible to learn about all the black history.”

Joy Yala

Celebrating Black History Month is exclusive to the U.S. For Joy Yala, an international student from Nairobi, Kenya, a place that doesn’t celebrate Black History Month, February is observed through a different perspective.

“For me, it’s really learning about the black experience, what that is and what it means from the past and now,” Yala said. “At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all have things that are similar and things that are different. I think it’s about celebrating that.” 

The senior public health major said that she doesn’t think about her race often but considers the word “black” to be very broad.

“I’m African, but I’m considered black,” Yala said. “A person from Haiti is considered black, too. It’s such a diverse term.”

For Yala, being a black student at Kent State is an opportunity to bring a different experience to the table in all facets of her life, whether that be in the classroom or walking around campus.

Yala said that as a black student at Kent State, she accepts the differences in people but attempts to challenge what is viewed as the norm in our society.

“I embrace the diversity within the realm of being black,” Yala said. 

Contact Felicia Guadagni at [email protected].