The students at University of Pennsylvania are talking race and not just in the classroom.

Yesterday, the school’s newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, ran an opinion piece from a student of color who says he would not recommend UPenn to any minority students looking to apply.

In his piece, “Racism Taints the University”, Christopher Abreu, recounts several of harrowing personal experience of discrimination and blatant hatred based on the color of his skin. In one section, Abreu recalls a conversation with a drunk White student who ridiculed him and hurled a racial slur.

A young white student blocked my way. “Yo.”

Here we go again.

“Yeah? What can I do for you?” I responded.

“I’m hungry, you see. Where can I get some fried chicken?”

Fried chicken? Did I really just get asked for a location to get fried chicken?

“Excuse me?” I didn’t know how to react. When racism is in your face like this, you don’t know how to respond. Many of us declare, “Oh, if this ever happened to me I’d smack them upside their head!”

But in reality, so many questions come to mind. “Is this person serious? Am I overreacting? Maybe this isn’t racist? Should I hit this person?”

“I’m looking for fried chicken,” he continued. “You look like someone who knows where you can get fried chicken.”

I needed to remove myself from this situation. I said, “Look, try Wawa if you’re hungry. I’m going now.”

He walked back to his friend and yelled, “I’m gonna go get some fried chicken! This nigger just told me where it’s at!”

Abreu says that while he has experienced racism before attending UPenn, the amount of blatant racism thrown casually around by some of its White students, makes the Ivy League university a hostile environment for students of color. He says is its rare to see other Black men on campus and that like many other top tier schools, being black on campus can mean being treated like an Affirmative-Action exception.

“The idea of ‘belonging here’ is the long-term wound. Ever since I came here, I have been self-conscious. You have to understand that Penn is extremely different from most schools, in that the vast majority comes from a much wealthier background. I grew up in the projects, surrounded by crime and drugs. I came from there to here without much help, and in May I will graduate cum laude.”

According to College Insights, African-American students make up 7 percent of the University of Pennsylvania’s student body.  On the school’s Diversity page, UPenn says it has been ranked “a top university for African-American students.”

I first came across Abreu’s piece when a friend posted the link on Facebook.  It immediately resonated with me. As someone who has attended one of the ‘revered’ Ivies as well, I can say that while I am used hearing racism and classism subtly expressed (however subtle bigotry can be) fairly regularly.  But I, like Abreu, have found myself taken off guard by its blatant displays.  Walking out of the gates of Columbia, I’ve overheard White students using the N word to refer to Black students. I’ve also heard it used ‘conversationally’ as a synonym for ‘friends’ or ‘pals.’  I doubt they carry this boldness with them a few blocks north into Harlem, but in the academic bubble of Morningside Heights, this kind of hate and disregard is often thrown around with ease.  It’s the kind of thing you know intrinsically, you never truly escape, but to hear it from the mouths of your fellow classmates, people who live and study in the same environment as you, it makes it hard to hope for evolved sensibilities or rethought relations.

Reflecting on that night, Abreu writes:

“To me, that night is the defining moment for me at Penn. Something I will carry with me until the day I die. For them, however, it was just Saturday. To be long forgotten, if not so already.”

The piece gives an illuminating, but very disappointing look at race relations on some of the nation’s top higher education institutes.  UPenn has given no official response.

What do you think of Abreu’s opinion piece, Clutchettes? Tell us what you think!

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  • fedup

    At all you morons saying “get a thicker skin” all you are saying is that it is okay for these people to continue saying racist comments while those being discriminated against should just “suck it up”. Way to encourage the racist folk. Great job.

  • Ann G

    I went to Fordham. Same shit, different campus. Not saying it’s right, but, just sayin’.

    Wonder why they act like this? Look to the images of US in the media. Not excusing their behavior, but again, just sayin’.

  • Schlongor

    I am white and I love black people.

    • Tomi

      I am black, and I love white people.

      Let’s be equally tolerant and accepting of each other’s difference together :D*!

      [* insert Captain Planet, world-saving enthusiasm, right here]

  • huh?

    I havent heard about anything like this but except a few CSU schools. Has this happen to him frequently it seem like it possibly has or is this just isolated incidence. I am sure the whole school is not like this. Wait was this the college a few years ago that the student got dressed in black face and like rappers? I always thought that penny had great friendly schools I have heard a black male high school state something about the asian and black thing at his school with probably jsut a hand few boys. I am sure it is not the whole school at that high school. Philly is afterall the city of brotherly love always seem like such a cool friendly place to me. It could be the image too since I hear that alot of crime happens in philly so their maybe a hidden presumptions and stereotypes.

  • Anisa Khandkar

    I’m a Black Penn grad and had a similar experience. A drunk schoolmate called me a “monkey” in front of a group of no less than six other white people. Why? Because I chose to ignore his persistent brash comments and keep my poker face during — *gasp* — a game of poker.

    That moment did NOT define my time at Penn. In fact, I think I turned it into a significant emotional experience for the person who accosted me. He got my number from a friend, called a day later and apologized profusely. I suppose he was worried that I would file some sort of grievance, but I do think he was truly embarrassed.

    So here are my thoughts: people are the product of their environment and that environment is more likely the community and home they grew up in: not their college. And on that note, people are entitled to teach their children whatever they want and believe whatever they want — but their conduct in regards to those beliefs is a different story.

    The young man who called me a monkey hailed from a very wealthy and well-established family. Shunning the Ivy League (as minorities) does nothing but ensure that this ‘level’ of education and the networking opportunities that it opens up stays exclusive to the ‘elite’ whose images are invoked when speaking about the Ivy League in the first place.

    I loved my time a Penn. And that moment, along with other trying situations, are the LAST thing that come to mind when I think of the Red and Blue.

    Take your degree and the lesson learned, and change the world.