Story #4: "You probably didn't even know ..."

     I attended a Minority Scholars Program banquet. Toward the end of the program which was comprised of eating, talking and interactive group work, two Black female undergraduates, Sherry and Cheryl, at our table lingered on and we talked. (Earlier that evening, when I introduced myself, Sherry said, "Oh, you're the African American history professor." I smiled. "Yes," all the while thinking to myself, "Uh-oh. What's that mean?" Then, I actually begged the question aloud. "No, a lot of people I talked to who took your class said they were learning a lot, but that there was a whole lot of reading." "Oh," I said and shrugged, still smiling, not knowing what else to say. I knew that some students felt I was too hard and too demanding.)

     Sherry, a very witty talkative sophomore, who has as her goal the establishment of an African-American-run research facility for the study of disease, told me that several of her friends told her that I was a strong independent Black woman who knows her stuff. "Oh, really," I said, feeling simultaneously pleased and relieved at what was an unexpected positive statement. "You're a role model in ways you probably didn't even know," she continued. Then suddenly, I felt an overwhelming responsibility - to be always "on, " to perform, to know, to do, to serve as a vessel of wisdom, to have the answer to every question, to leap Ivory Towers in a single .... to go where no woman has ever gone ... I felt the pressure to say always just the right thing. Cheryl agreed - that I served as a "role model." Both thought that it was important to have someone they could identify with, someone like them - like me - whom they could talk to at the University. Like me, hey? As I make my way through the classroom and academy, I think of all my comrades and all the colleagues (those whom I talk to often and not so often; and those whom I don't know yet, look forward to meeting and may never meet) who surely have similar stories, who must also circumvent the minefields and avoid the quicksand. Like me, hey? The battle scarred bodies of survivors.


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May 2000