UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Not a cultural monolith

Panel discussion on Black Student Experience at UND reminds listeners that Black culture in America is diverse, too

student discussion panel
UND student Prescious Dada, far left, moderates a panel discussion with students Flora Brown, Abraham Akinbobola, Melvina Potty and Kahlid Ayoola, as part of UND’s celebration of Black History Month. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Every student at UND has had to navigate that transition from high school to college life, and each of these transitions is of course unique. But some students find themselves in a campus environment that is less diverse than the environment they came from, which leads them to think more deeply about social interactions and how they fit into their programs.

Such was the case for Flora Brown, a sophomore studying Kinesiology, who discussed her transition experience while taking part in the “Black Student Experience Panel” discussion, hosted by UND’s African Student Union, on Feb. 22.

Brown said it was, at first, difficult to make the transition to life at UND. She found herself wondering, should she be trying harder to fit in? Or, should she stay in touch more closely with the person she was before she came to UND?

Thinking about such questions and her own transition has made Brown more secure in who she is, she said. And that has had a positive impact on her feelings about her own educational outcome.

“I would definitely say it made me love myself and my culture more, and made me appreciate myself and my family,” she said. “It made me want the degree even more than I did when I first came here.”

Brown was one of four students who took part in the panel discussion, which was held in UND’s Diversity and Inclusion office on the second floor of the Memorial Union. The office space was full that Thursday, with a crowd of students and University administrators in attendance.

The event, moderated by Precious Dada, a graduate programmer in the office, was part of UND’s Black History Month celebration, which also included a lecture about civil rights icon Rosa Parks, given by Art Malloy, vice president of Student Affairs.

When asked by Dada if he ever felt misrepresented or misunderstood in the classroom, Abraham Akinbobola, a Commercial Aviation and Aviation Management student, said he’s keenly aware that others might take some things he says in class to be representative of an entire group. As a result, he said, he has sometimes found it better to stay silent rather than weigh in.

“There are times when I don’t want to say anything, because people think what I am saying is not so much as what I’m saying as what people like me say,” Akinbobola said.

Similarly, Melvina Potty, a Computer Science student, said that lack of representation contributes to misunderstanding at times. Like Akinbobola, she said it would be better for people not to think in terms of a monolithic Black culture.

“Some people have these notions of Black people and think that we’re all one type of people, when we’re very diverse in our thoughts, ethnicities and cultures,” she said.

The panelists also highlighted the positive experiences they have had on campus, and they made sure to include their experiences with faculty members. Panelists said their professors tried very hard to make time for them when they needed assistance. This might mean an after-class chat or scheduling a dedicated appointment.

Kahlid Ayoola, a Mechanical Engineering student, said he appreciates the interaction with his professors, and he recognizes their interest in his success not only as a student, but as a person.

“Whenever I have a question for a teacher, that person treats me like they want to help me personally, not just as a student in their class,” he said. “I think every teacher I’ve asked questions of has done that. I think UND has done a good job taking those steps.”

Potty agreed and said the connections she has made with faculty members will stay with her for life. “I would definitely say that I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with teachers and staff in general here,” she said.

Panelists also wanted to take the time to promote upcoming events, including 1954: 347 U.S. 483. The April 11 event will take place in the VandeWalle Courtroom at the UND School of Law, and will honor the anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown V. Board of Education.

Also coming soon is “Empowered by Our Past,” an event that recognizes the first nine students of color who attended UND. This event is set to be held in the Memorial Union Ballroom, on Friday, March 15.