So when I think about how I chose Amherst College, I really think that Amherst College may have chosen me. I grew up in Sacramento, California. I went to a small, all-girls, Catholic high school. Fun fact: It was the same high school that was featured in the film Lady Bird. And during high school, we went on an East Coast college tour. We visited all the big schools on the Eastern seaboard and into Pennsylvania. Now, I didn’t think about it then, but I was the only Black person on that tour, amongst all the students, all the teachers and all the counselors. And of all the colleges we visited, the only college that had a Black tour guide was Amherst College.
All the other students and teachers were swooning over this tour guide. He was this Louisiana boy, very handsome, green eyes, I believe. I was spending more time thinking about the campus. There were 1,600 acres per 1,600 students. And I just thought that was amazing. Every student was going to get an acre. Perfect. And the campus looked like a New England postcard, which I loved as well. Now at the same time, I also received my acceptance letter from Amherst College a week before I got any other acceptance letter. And when you’re applying to colleges, you always want to know, who’s going to accept you? Who’s going to take you? Who’s going to be the one who’s going to match with you? And so for Amherst College's acceptance letter to come first felt like a first love. No other college could compare. So, of course, I went to Amherst.
And on my first day, my mother came with me to move in and we ran into one of the other freshmen and her mother, who was helping her move in. And we realized that this freshman was going to be one of my roommates. And as soon as we realized that, her mother’s face changed. She froze, with a smile plastered on her face. She didn’t say anything. We didn’t say anything. But I noticed that reaction. It definitely was saying, “Oh, shit. My daughter’s going to be sharing a room with a Black person.”
Now, I had been to private schools my whole life. I’d been in situations where I was the only Black person at any given time. I was used to white people’s reactions to me. And I’d never seen that reaction before. At the same time, as soon as I saw it, I recognized it. I realized then that Black people have this sixth sense, this antenna. Of course, it’s born out of necessity. It’s born out of self-preservation, but it lets us know when situations like that happen. And it also lets us know that we need to protect ourselves. And so how do we protect ourselves? We put on a mask.
I learned that day, at age 17, that I would need to wear that mask. And incidentally, it was funny because that woman was trying to wear a mask too. When her face froze, that was a mask.
The only problem is, her mask exposed her. It exposed how she felt. It exposed who she was in that moment. Meanwhile, my mask was protecting, was defending. But what was it protecting me from? What was it defending against? How was it helping me cope? What was I coping with? And how was I coping? Those are the stories we want to tell with “Black Women of Amherst College.”