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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