What it’s like being a Black student who is not an athlete in CU’s Coach Prime Era

Photo of Kennedy Pickering by Luke Ryan/ KGNU

Black students make up just 2.7% of CU Boulder’s student population. That’s roughly 829 students out of nearly 31,000. KGNU’s Kennedy Pickering sat down with her roommate Rolla Mzabibu discuss how that’s affected their college experience. They also touch on the impact Coach Prime has had on campus from their perspectives as Black non-student athletes, and what forms of community they’ve been able to build despite the small population.

Listen:

  • cover play_arrow

    02_20_24_Kennedy_beingablackstudentatCU Kennedy Pickering

Interview Transcript:

Kennedy: Yeah. What do you think are some misconceptions you feel the Black community has about CU Boulder? Are those misconceptions sometimes warranted?

Rolla: Pre-Coach Prime, if you asked a typical Black or Hispanic student if they wanted to come to CU, they would’ve probably been like, “Hmm, maybe not. It’s probably in my choices, but I don’t know if I want to go.” But now, because of Coach Prime, I would assume that has changed a little bit, especially for students who are student-athletes and students who don’t want to go into football or basketball. But if you are a typical student who wants to just get a college education, um, playing out, I think. You’re probably thinking that, you know, if they give me money, I’ll go. Like, you’re thinking about general consistencies, like, just like the stereotypical CU thing is that it’s mostly a PWI institution. Unfortunately, when it comes to CU, whether it’s gender studies, ethnic studies, or racial studies, all these things, you have to go to those departments, and you have to go to those classes to be able to actually sort of understand who you are and where you come from. Those departments, those small departments, are the ones that are underfunded and underappreciated.

Unfortunately, when it comes to CU, whether it’s gender studies, ethnic studies, or racial studies, all these things, you have to go to those departments, and you have to go to those classes to be able to actually sort of understand who you are and where you come from. Those departments, those small departments, are the ones that are underfunded and underappreciated.

Kennedy: Right now, being in the Black Feminist and Women Theories class, I’m sitting here reading books by Bell Hooks, we’re talking about Sojourner Truth, I’m sitting here, I’m like, these are women that I’ve looked up to since I was a younger kid, but we’re not getting taught this in any of my other gender classes. It has to be this Black professor that I’m teaching, and she also had to spearhead to have this class. I think she wanted this class since I was a sophomore. I’m a senior now, and it finally was available to this semester, which is so sad because I think that these are the classes that I believe CU Boulder as a whole needs to start looking into because sometimes, when I’m walking on campus, and I’m seeing students that don’t look at me, or I’m walking and I’m giving tours to parents that don’t look like me, and they’re like, I already see, you know when they look. At you, they’re like, these are preconceived notions, like I can’t afford to go here, that I’m here on a scholarship that’s probably related to athletics, and I’m like, I have so much more. I am not worth just my skin color. I’m so much more than that. And I feel like even because a whole lot of light has been brought onto athletics. But where are the students that have been working their butt off in the music department, gender department, and journalism department that are Black? And we have worked our butt off, too, just to get to where we are.

I am not worth just my skin color. I’m so much more than that. And I feel like even because a whole lot of light has been brought onto athletics. But where are the students that have been working their butt off in the music department, gender department, and journalism department that are Black?

Rolla: You’re absolutely right. What was the last part of that question?

Kennedy:  Do you think these misconceptions are warranted?

Rolla: No, I think, honestly, that question answers itself with everything we just said so far. They’re not; they’re all unwarranted because what we just said is really what it’s like being on the outside looking in. A lot of students who want to come to CU, who are Black students, Hispanic students, Asian students, or any other ethnicity, are probably thinking about all these things, you know? When I come to CU, will I find my community? Will I be able to find a community that welcomes me, celebrates me, and supports me? Because the thing is That’s different for a lot of us. A lot of racialized students don’t immediately get that when we come to CU. We don’t immediately get the chance to join a sorority or a frat. We don’t immediately get the opportunity to join a club, an acapella club, or whatever is out there. Like, a lot of us have to literally work so hard to look for these clubs and organizations and network and find these people that look like us and make relationships that way. It’s not something that’s immediately given to us. And so, it can cause a lot of issues there, you know, I didn’t find my community and my people until maybe the end of sophomore year. So, obviously, because of COVID, but also because I felt pretty isolated coming to CU because no one looked like me. And it was only one or two people that looked like me. So all these things affected me. And so I don’t think, I do think it’s unwarranted for sure. Bringing it back, you said something about sororities; I know you know this about me: I wanted to join a sorority when I came here, and I was looking at it, I was really thinking about it, and then I looked at everything, all those sororities, and unfortunately, I would have been a sorority with a few people of color, and I was like, Yeah, yeah. Cause, cause you know, coming here, you’re like you’re always going to be in the back of your head, you’re like I’m the token Black kid.

We don’t immediately get the chance to join a sorority or a frat. We don’t immediately get the opportunity to join a club, an acapella club, or whatever is out there. Like, a lot of us have to literally work so hard to look for these clubs and organizations and network and find these people that look like us and make relationships that way.

Rolla: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. It’s true, and as you said, the idea is that you want to make friends and you want to have, make connections with people, but it’s hard to do that when there are so many preconceived notions about who you are or what they think you are, and that’s really the issue with going to a PWI most of the time. And then, my last question for you today is, what is something in the future you want CU to invest in that we don’t currently have for Black students? I know we have the Center for African American Students, but it’s not talked about enough, the Black Student Association, the African American Student Association. While other clubs get highlighted so much, these clubs that represent us as a community don’t.

Rolla: Yeah, I mean, unfortunately, I personally have lost hope in terms of what can be done for students of color and Black students on this campus. Mainly because, from time and time again, we’ve seen what the institution itself prioritizes, you know, in terms of what they think is best for the overall institute. You see, it’s funny, every time I walk past the Museum where it has Black Lives Matter. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so ironic to me because, at the end of the day, the school has hired Neo-Nazis and white supremacists to teach classes here. It’s enrolled Nazis and white supremacists to go to the school and actively claim to identify as those things. Also, just the mere fact that, you know, it’s always about diversity and equity and all these things, but when you really look at it, there’s no measure of diversity and equity. When you talk about the land grants and land acknowledgment and the whole school being built on indigenous land. Like all these things me are the same because, at the end of the day, this institution will only do what it does to continue to be an institution and bring in as much money as it can for its research and for its athletics and football and all this stuff. That’s their priority. It’s the same people who are constantly pushing for voices and spaces for people of color, black students, and all students from different backgrounds. So, I think that’s how it’s always going to be. All we can do is try to advocate for ourselves as much as we can and highlight the spaces we already have, molding them to be better and more accessible for incoming students and faculty because that’s all we can do. There’s not much more from there. I know that sounds a little pessimistic, but it’s really how I feel sometimes.

I walk past the Museum where it has Black Lives Matter. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so ironic to me because, at the end of the day, the school has hired Neo-Nazis and white supremacists to teach classes here. It’s enrolled Nazis and white supremacists to go to the school and actively claim to identify as those things.

When you talk about the land grants and land acknowledgment and the whole school being built on indigenous land. Like all these things me are the same because, at the end of the day, this institution will only do what it does to continue to be an institution and bring in as much money as it can for its research and for its athletics and football and all this stuff.

Kennedy: I know what you mean because when I look at it, I always have to go down those steps on tour, and I look up and say, “Black Lives Matter.” Then I’m on a campus where I’m like, do I really matter if I’m not a student-athlete? Sometimes, it feels like, as a black student on campus, if I’m not an athlete, do I really matter? Because I just don’t feel it, and it’s more of a show than enforcement. Black lives do matter, black students’ lives matter, everyone’s identity here on campus matters. But when we’re black students who aren’t athletes, sometimes we get pushed to the wayside. Do these black students really matter? I want to question what you did to support that during a hard time.

if I’m not a student-athlete? Sometimes, it feels like, as a black student on campus, if I’m not an athlete, do I really matter? Because I just don’t feel it, and it’s more of a show than enforcement.

Rolla: Two years ago or a year and a half ago, they had to read because it was during Black History Month, too. I remember some of the letters were broken out like the glass was broken off. I honestly found it a bit hilarious because it was during Black History Month. I remember thinking this had to have been racially motivated. I tend to feel alienated at this school myself. As you said, when you’re walking on this campus, and all you see are people who don’t look like you, it can be complex and challenging to navigate. That’s where imposter syndrome comes in, feeling like you don’t belong here and this space was not made for you. But that’s what it’s all about. All the black students and racial minorities at this school are challenging that exact notion that we do belong here and we do deserve to be here. Just because we’re not typical white students with privilege doesn’t mean we don’t belong here. It’s a struggle for us, but it’s a struggle that will lead to good things. That’s what I try to remind myself every time I’m in a classroom and look around as we’re talking about racial issues, then some kid says the most out-of-pocket stuff you’ve ever heard, and you turn around like, did that kid just say that? It’s so off-putting and really messes you up. But you know, it’s funny when you debrief with your other black friends and laugh about it.

Kennedy: My professors do this a lot every time we’re talking about racial issues, specifically pertaining to black history or black people. I often see my professors look at me specifically, like they’re asking for my approval to talk about it. I think it’s hilarious. Or when you’re the only black student in the classroom, and then every other student looks at you when they use the word ‘slaves,’ and everybody’s looking at you like, why are you looking like that? It’s such an interesting thing. I think I’ve been looked at so many times because if anything racially comes up, being the only black student in your class is sometimes not the best thing.

Rolla: And yeah, you immediately are like, your senses are on alert. Yeah, you shrivel up, and you’re just like, “Here we go.” It’s like a reflex, a sixth sense, a reflex where it’s just like, “Oh my God, here we go.”

Kennedy: Thank you for doing this.

Rolla: Of course. Thank you for having me.

Kennedy Pickering

Kennedy Pickering

Search

Now Playing

Recent Stories

Upcoming Events

0%