Finding community

BAS president, Kings officer speaks on experience at PWI

Published by The Rocket, Date: February 16, 2024
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The Rocket (TR): Thanks for sitting down with us, Jamar. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself as an SRU student?

Jamar Robinson (JR): My name is Jamar Robinson. I go by the pronouns of he/him. My major is computing with a concentration in IT. My involvement on campus involves being the president of Black Action Society (BAS) and also the public relations chair of Kings organization. I identify as Black as well.

TR: We would love to hear more about your organizations. Can you tell us about BAS and Kings and how they’ve helped you find community?

JR: With BAS, my involvement started as a general body member in my freshman year, so that was fall semester of 2021. I came from a very small school, and my school only had majority Black students, so when I came to this school, which is predominantly white, it was a big culture shock to me.

So one of the first organizations I was pointed to was BAS. I just started to come to their events and everything because honestly, along with me being Black, I didn’t really have a group of people or friends around me. Maybe because being at [a] PWI [predominantly white institution] people may look at me differently. I wasn’t used to that because at private school, it was all Black students.

BAS just really helped me become comfortable around people and also gave me a safe space to go and do things pertaining to Black culture because like I said, coming up here, I didn’t really see that much. And, along with that, there was this chalk incident where people–I think it was maybe my second day ever of classes–where it showed things like “blue lives matter” and it said some really racist things and I was just looking down and I was like, ‘This is my introduction to campus?’ So I feel like going to BAS younger really helped me be more comfortable.

With Kings, Kings is basically like BAS, but it aims to make Black males more comfortable. Kings just got back on its feet last year [after COVID-19]. Before Kings, I was in Black Male Initiative, and that was basically what Kings does, and that just made me be more comfortable as a Black man on campus.

One of the first events I went to for Black Male Initiative was a meet and greet with the Black staff, so that was very beneficial. I met two important people there: Ms. Keshia [Booker] and Mike White. Those two… have really helped me find community, just going to events and eventually, with BAS, it kind of was a progression: I was just a general body member, then I went to public relations, and now I’m the president. So it’s just being able to be comfortable and also be able to run the organization that has really helped me be comfortable in myself on campus.

It’s something I really give a lot of credit to–the organization and also the people on the e-board my freshman year, because they talked to me a lot and made sure I was okay.

Representation through student organizations

TR: What, to you, is the importance of having organizations like these in higher education, especially at a predominantly white school?

JR: So for one, I would say a big importance is making people of different backgrounds and identities feel like they are represented on a campus like this… it gives us a space to be comfortable but to evolve as well, but not necessarily closing us off to just only be around Black people. It gives us events and things to participate in and also helps us feel advocated for. It just gives us advocacy, support and just a safety net honestly.

TR: How does finding that kind of acceptance influence your own relationship with your identity?

JR: Along with making me feel more comfortable, it makes me feel the positive need to make others feel comfortable too. So that’s one of the reasons why I even took this position. It lit a fire under me to make other people of color feel comfortable and heard.

TR: Going along with finding community and acceptance, what is your experience with code-switching or assimilation among your peers?

JR: I’ve done–kind of stopped now–but I’ve definitely done code-switching before especially being up here. For example, when I talk lighter, or I don’t use any slang, I know people will perceive me as smarter.

I’ve also just kind of incorporated that into all aspects of life, just sounding not necessarily more intelligent but using less slang just so that people know that I’m an intelligent person.

TR: Would you say that your advocacy has extended to allyship to other marginalized groups?

JR: Definitely. As a person of color, I have this thing where if I see any type of uniqueness in somebody, whether it be a racial identity, sexual identity, or anything, I feel like I have a somewhat bond to them because compared to the average person, we’re different. So I educate myself, I educate the people I’m around. I’ve just been correcting people in my circle and in my family.

TR: Can you talk a little bit about representation on campus in terms of student body voice or faculty and how you may or may not feel heard?

JR: I feel like it’s gotten better. I like how we have a Black History Month calendar and how there are lots of events lined up for it, and at the same time, there’s the whole Happy Bus thing where it took the person that it happened to to post a video on their public Instagram for that to really be even known to everybody.

I feel like progress is being made, but I feel like a big thing that could happen is say, for instance, something like the Happy Bus happens again–communicate with the organizations on campus like [BAS] and I’m not saying we may have a solution, but we can teach you things as opposed to just sending an email to us like ‘We’re sorry.’ We want to teach you. And for us to teach you, you have to reach out to us instead of trying to save face and say we’re sorry.

TR: Getting into your area of study, what has been your experience as a Black student in STEM and specifically computing?

JR: With that, I’ve been fortunate through the Jump Start program to have a friend named Michel, where we have the exact same majors with a different concentration. He’s Black as well, and usually, we are the only Black students in the classes except for maybe like one or two. Just bonding with him over that. It does feel weird coming in, you know, you talk different, you look different, you sound different, you dress different.

It makes you feel like–of course the people in the room are not blatantly saying you’re not accepted, but it makes you think, ‘Do I belong here?’ But at the same time, I’m like, ‘I’m here for a reason.’ I feel like being Black in STEM, I’ve had to make an extra effort to be more social to be accepted amongst my peers.

Experience at SRU

TR: What do you see as the biggest issues facing students of color at SRU?

JR: I would just say one of the biggest issues is just coming here and seeing nobody that has any type of uniqueness in terms of cultural backgrounds or anything. Because like I said with the computing, if I didn’t have my one friend in there, I would just feel isolated. I don’t know how we go about fixing that, but I do see that as an issue to where you come to a school like this and you come and learn but you are the only person who looks like you in your classes. 

TR: What is your view on the divide between campus politics and the surrounding community?

JR: I’ve seen an improvement with it. The more I see organizations being put in the spotlight to discuss things like this, the more I get to see others’ opinions and others’ standpoints and views and learn from those as well.

TR: How do you feel about SRU’s efforts to highlight Black History Month and Black experiences?

JR: I feel great about it. Like I said before, the Black History Month calendar where it has all the events laid out and it’s not just like two or three events it’s a whole list of events and BAS being promoted as well. I will say that I’ve seen this on the social media page of Slippery Rock, there’s a lot more representation as opposed to the last few years. If you scroll through it now, you’ll see a lot more people of color on the page, so I will say showing us in terms of people who have ideas, that’s been a big improvement.

TR: What does celebrating Black History Month mean to you?

JR: Celebrating Black History Month to me means making people feel well known, accepted, and feeling like more than a number, because that second word, history. Of course, there is a lot of negative that has happened in the Black community that has happened in terms of history but I feel like the fact that we are highlighting the positives and there are events like the mobile museum and honestly just ways for Black culture to be represented and promoted without exploiting Black talent. I feel like they’re making an effort to make our voices and our events and just the Black experience overall promoted on campus.

TR: Is there anything else you’d like to speak on that we didn’t bring up?

JR: Jump Start is a very good program for people not even of just racial backgrounds but just people… if you think you have any type of uniqueness compared to the average person in America, Jump Start is a great program for you. Or just people in general. They offer mentorship, and the people there give you great advice. Shameless plug, but I definitely think that freshmen should be Jump Start mentees, and if you’re on campus already, be a mentor.

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