I was cleaning a bunch of old files off my hard drive this morning...when I ran across a short essay I wrote for a class I took. When I first came back to work for Abilene Christian University I was bound and determined to complete my Masters degree. Well....at least I STARTED working on my Masters.
Anyhow, one of the classes I took was called Cultural Diversity, taught by the late, great Charles Trevathan
. Each student was tasked with interviewing someone of a different race, and find out what they thought about their experience at ACU
One of our student workers in the Alumni Relations office suggested I track down a young lady from St. Thomas, named Dacia Samuel, and interview her. What a wonderful experience this was...and following is the essay I wrote (got an "A!")
The last time I walked into Sikes
Dormitory was in the spring of 1990. While my goals fourteen years later were considerably different than they were back then, the results were the same – I met a sweet, charming young lady.
Dacia Samuel was born and raised in St. Thomas of the Virgin Islands. She had never left the tiny island of 56,000 people nestled in the Caribbean until her first day on the campus of Abilene Christian University. To see this young lady walking across campus one would classify her as African American, but her beautiful Caribbean accent quickly nullifies that categorization. Dacia does not refer to herself as African American. “I’m black, but I’d prefer to just be called ‘Dacia.’”
While she has loved her Abilene experience (“I never knew people could be so friendly,” she says), the West Texas landscape has often caused her to become a little homesick. There are other characteristics of West Texas that cause her to long for her tiny island. Society is much more laid back in St. Thomas. People are not in such a hurry to be on time. For instance, while the sign on her St. Thomas church building says worship begins at 9:00AM, one may count on it being 9:20 before the first “good morning” is uttered.
And though Dacia has a boyfriend here in the United States, she has noted something interesting about men on the ACU
campus. “They are so sensitive,” she said with a giggle. “You can’t say stuff to boys here that you would say back home. They get their feelings hurt too easy.”
The number of prejudice moments she has experienced while in Texas have been few and far between. And even the moments she has experienced have been more out of ignorance than meanness or hatred. One particular instance she noted came from the ACU
administration. A survey was taken on students’ satisfaction with Chapel. Several students made comments on the survey that a large number of black students routinely disrupted Chapel by leaving too early. An announcement was made at the Thursday “small group chapel” for Essence of Ebony asking for black students to refrain from leaving early. Dacia sited that a similar number of white students may be seen leaving Chapel early as well, and questioned whether they were admonished for their behavior.
Dacia has experienced more discrimination in her homeland than she has in the United States. Though small in size and in land mass, society on the island of St. Thomas remains segregated. The schools on St. Thomas are segregated – white kids go to school with white kids and vice versa
. Dacia said that it is common knowledge on St. Thomas that white people go to the movies early while the blacks go to the later movies, and rarely do the races interact with one another
The one place where there is no segregation on St. Thomas is at Church. The church of Christ on St. Thomas is an even mix of white and black people. She loves her congregation back at home, but the worship at her home congregation in Abilene – the predominantly black 10th
Church of Christ – makes Sunday morning the highlight of her week. Worship on the island is more reserved than at her experience at Treadaway
. “We just sound like we’re full of joy and that we’re happy that God is alive,” she says with a huge smile.
Dacia is encouraged by the lack of prejudice she has witnessed while at ACU
. While she expected the transition to life on a predominantly white campus to be difficult, it has been much easier than she anticipated. On-campus groups like Essence of Ebony along with other international students provide a valuable support group for minority and international students. Such groups also encourage Caucasian students to participate in their events. One such event is Chai Café
, a weekly event held each Thursday night with the goal of mingling international students with other student groups. Though sparsely attended by Caucasian students Dacia is pleased to see international students attempting to cross cultural lines.
Essence of Ebony is another on-campus group that has created a great support group for Dacia as well as other black students. Dacia sees Essence of Ebony’s commitment to bringing black culture to the ACU
campus as a positive step towards increasing racial harmony. However she would like to see Essence of Ebony reconsider their strategy on certain programs. “Essence of Ebony is not exclusively for black students; we want all types of students to be involved with our program,” Dacia said, “but we’ve
named things so that only black students will want to attend." In her opinion some of their strategies have been more discriminatory than anything else she had witnessed on campus.
Dacia is not overly concerned by her fellow students’ lack of knowledge of her country. However she grows tired of pinpointing exactly where St. Thomas is located. “United States citizens know very little about the outside world, but they expect everyone to know about their country,” Dacia remarked, adding that ACU
students tend to think St. Thomas is part of either Jamaica or the Bahamas.
Dacia Samuel is a sophomore working toward a degree in Management. She is confident, intelligent, well-spoken, thoughtful, and spiritual. Combined with a fabulous smile and a glorious accent, she is guaranteed to be a success in whatever career she chooses. She is not overly concerned with the fact that there are people in her new nation, her new city, and even on her college campus who hate her because of the color of her skin. Instead she chooses to surround herself with people who will support her and encourage her to accomplish her goals.