Updated: Sep 21, 2022
Being a sports writer at Belmont has allowed me to see different sides of athletes. It has allowed me to see that athletes, though immensely talented, are just regular students.
Being a black student has added another layer to my Belmont experience, making it more of a challenge.
In light of the social unrest due to racism in America, former black athletes have shared their opinions on how Belmont can be a more inviting place for African-American students overall.
Former Belmont basketball standout Amanze Egekeze felt that during his time at Belmont, he lacked the liberation of self-expression. Feeling as though his opinion isn’t seen as valid in the eyes of his peers. And after graduation, he found the freedom in being vocal in his experiences.
“Everybody feels different individually but for me, I’ve always felt like I’m able to adapt to my environment pretty quickly. But subconsciously I do feel like it made me feel as if my views and opinions didn’t hold a lot of weight in the grand scheme of things. Being out of school now, I do feel a little more freedom to express myself and my views openly than maybe I did when I was in school,” Egekeze wrote in an email.
There have been times where I, too, didn’t speak up – not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because I had to question how my white peers would perceive what I wanted to say. I wondered if my self-expression will make them uncomfortable.
I dealt with a level of tension my white peers didn’t.
And this tension spreads from the lack of black students at the university. At Belmont, there are only 4.7 percent black non-Hispanic students, according to Belmont’s Factbook Data. In 2009, that number was 4 percent.
In 11 years, not much has changed.
For black students that means struggling to find people who look like you — not just walking around campus, but also in classes.
“Walking into class with your head on a swivel looking for people like you. Or even walking down 12 South. I always just wanted to be hyper-aware of my surroundings,” said former Belmont Basketball player Michael Benkert.
It’s this hyper-awareness of their race that often white students at Belmont wouldn’t think to even carry. They walk into every room or down any sidewalk and see people they resemble.
As a black student at Belmont, I have to actively seek out settings where I feel understood, or else id be left feeling like the odd one out.
“Every day I walked around campus seeing people that were not of my skin color looking at me like the odd-ball,” said Belmont track and field athlete Khristian Vickers in a blog post on blogs.belmont.edu.
I can say I have felt the same thing.
A smile in someone’s direction and they look away nervously. A wave that is not reciprocated. A joke, that to me, didn’t feel like just a joke. And the only time I see people that look like me working for Belmont regularly is in the caf. These are experiences not solely unique to me, but also felt by the entire black student body.
Something has to change. We all know it.
The question simply is — how?
And truth be told, the answer to the problem starts long before students ever arrive at Belmont. It starts in homes, and in communities — places both far and near to the university. It starts in grade school and continues through college.
It starts with true education.
“The ignorance on display in our nation today is just as much a result of lack of education as it is anything else,” wrote Egekeze. “I think we need to seriously restructure the way we teach American history in our schools. The best way to go about these things, I don’t know. But I believe this is one of the roots of a lot of our issues today.”
Education bolsters conversation, and conversation brings about questions. Questions bear forth answers, and answers lead to insight and understanding. Understanding leads to a change of heart, and it’s that change that rebuilds community interactions.
Belmont has the potential to be a beautiful representation of all the parts of Nashville. And Nashville is a wonderful city full of diverse people, dialects, and life experiences.
We at Belmont have the ability to make the university a true mirror of that.
Let’s not just be another institution that “stands in solidarity.” We should put our money where our mouth is. Lets not just aim to be more inclusive. We should aim to truly diversify.
Bring black events to the forefront of the university. Invite an expanded form of diversity training for incoming students. Market Belmont as a possibility for black families. Ask about the needs of the black student body, and truly listen when we give you answers. We can work together to create a plan for executed change.
Let’s be a representation of the city we reside in. First by creating a place where students that look like me feel comfortable and understood.
“As a university, I think it’s only right to be proactive in making sure students and faculty have the knowledge they need to be able to take real action big or small,” wrote Egekeze. “ We should strive to teach these things just like we would anything else.”
This article written by Ian Kayanja.