In life, everyone’s experience differs in some way, shape or form. For some, things are a lot easier, and they come from really good situations. For others, they’ve had to work and scrape for everything they got. But historically, we’ve seen that no matter how they were set up, Black students have had a tougher time than their white counterparts when it comes to inclusion and equality.
Jamiyah Johnson is a Black student athlete, who found her way to The Rock. Every experience differs, especially in towns like Slippery Rock, but the experience of a Black student athlete differs very much.
Johnson started her college career at Davis & Elkins College (D&E) and, according to her, the school was not very diverse. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, D&E is in an area where there is a predominately white population, but the student population is not very white.
“It was not very diverse [at D&E], but there were a lot Black student athletes, so like the town, once they got to know you, they were very welcoming,” Johnson said. “Elkins itself, there’s not a lot of Black people there.”
The biggest challenge that Johnson faced was in town. When she’d go to places in Elkins, people gave her a bit of a weird feeling. The town isn’t big and there wasn’t a lot there, but wherever she went, she would make sure that somehow, someway people knew that she was from D&E.
“Coming in, people didn’t know we were student athletes, or a part of Davis & Elkins in general, so I felt like I had to wear Davis & Elkins apparel anytime I went out,” Johnson said. “People would just stare at us and be like who are these people and what not, so I did face a lot of challenges just going to Walmart there.”
Her experience there really wasn’t too different from how she grew up though. She went to a predominantly white institution (PWI) in high school. So, in a way she was prepared for going to D&E and it wasn’t too much of a shock for her to be there.
“I went to PWI, so it wasn’t a difference at D&E, I mean it was in a way, but I felt comfortable there,” Johnson said.
She feels that after the town got to know her, they embraced her. She got comfortable during that time that she was there.
“Overall, after [the town] got to know me, they were just like ‘Oh that’s Jamiyah,’” Johnson said.
When she decided to transfer, diversity was something she took into account. Slippery Rock University in general is another predominately white town in a rural area. The difference is that the college campus was much more diverse than D&E. It was something she discussed with coach Robert McGraw, and he reassured her.
“Coach McGraw actually told me that [Slippery Rock] was going to be a little bit more diverse [than D&E], and diversity was the main thing for me because I didn’t want to come to another place where it would be like ‘Oh another Black girl,’” Johnson said. “I just wanted to be here and make my presence known but not because I’m African American.”
The Rock women’s basketball team was different to Johnson as well. The team had seven Black players on the team, which made up almost half the team. She wasn’t used to that. She also wasn’t used to people caring about Black students as much as Slippery Rock does.
“A lot of places say they care, but they don’t really care about it,” Johnson said. “They had different things going on for Black History Month, but I think it’s really important for everyone, not just African American students to come out and learn.”
SRU celebrated Black History Month with many different events all throughout February. That meant a lot to Johnson. Here on campus, she’s felt seen and those events celebrating Black history were important to her. She made it a point to go to as many as she could.
Johnson’s story is her own, but a lot of Black student athlete’s on campus share similar experiences. But The Rock has always made her feel welcomed, comfortable and, most importantly, at home.
“I’m not on campus as much as I thought I would be, but with the whole basketball perspective, I definitely felt way more welcomed here,” Johnson said.