Culture Shock! (continued)

October 5, 2016 in 1960s-1970s

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaimed loudly, beginning to shed my usually shy, intimidated mantle.

I did so to my own surprise—without any statistics or the names of students that I could call to back me up. Such an outburst even jolted my “Individual Difference” teacher of psychology. He had just made the statement (while talking about I.Q.) that no “Negro” that he ever had in class had made above a C. Surprisingly to me and maybe even to him, the graduate students in class began to “get my back” about his contentions of race and I.Q. by quoting all kinds of statistics and studies that proved otherwise. The professor shut up. In the end I received a B out of the class though I strongly felt that I deserved better.

“I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.”

My European History teacher, Mr. I., on the first day of class of an exceptionally large group, canvassed the class with eye scan and winked at us all as he began with, “I’ll bet that I can trace the roots of all of you back to England.” I am sure that he did that for effect at that time — or maybe not. Only one other black person was in that class, a commuting student by the name of Wanda, the first and only that landed in a class with me though there were other commuting Negro students on campus. She and I got to be the best of friends, and years later, she became my bridesmaid. As we were leaving class, I said of the professor, “Did you hear him?” She replied rather quickly: “Oh, you know they don’t consider us as people. so he wasn’t talking about us.” That was a common belief among many blacks — and rightly so — considering what had happened during slavery. But I intuitively liked the man then, and after my watching televised Roots, and studying intensely Louis Lomax’s Freedomways, I felt more assured that Dr. I. must have been on the level.

Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings.

The next semester there was a small influx of more out-of town, and some out of state off campus black students for some reason or other. The few from the North seemed to exhibit an air of superiority over those of us Kentuckians as we shared the same break table—dining for some—at the student union building. Then as now, students at all levels tend to clump together by race in large settings. The uppity ones from out of town who dressed differently, danced better, spoke with a northern twang, and won at card games that they played all day long were soon on their way back home after a semester or two and were the last ones to register the immediately following semester.

They had students register by GPA.

I have been to other colleges and universities and have seen registration processes, but never have I seen what the University did one year I was enrolled. They had students register by GPA. What an embarrassment to all students—white and black– who did not have decent grades!! No more secrets, no more lies, no more pretenses. The students, parents, and others probably howled so much about that experiment until I don’t think the University ever tried that again. Probably to all who didn’t realize as I did (having had access as a honest and trusted student worker to all grades from the Registrar’s office) that some of those students did not even garner a point! Hard to imagine. So nosy Wanda and I walked by and viewed their comeuppance–so to speak—We saw those black students who played cards all day long as well as whites who tried to sound ultra intelligent in classroom discussions in those low GPA lines. I thought that was an awful thing for them to experience.

White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

Another element of culture shock for me involved the street dances where very few blacks danced, giving the scarcity of match mates. At that time students of color didn’t dare dance with those out of their culture. Large segments of the street were blocked off around Memorial Coliseum where whites danced and blacks for the most part looked on. The experience was an intriguing first for me though I did not participate in that activity. White music, white dancers, basically a white event.

A Smoking Campus

UK was one smoking campus culture as almost everyone smoked. I don’t imagine that I should have been surprised, Kentucky being a tobacco state and all, but it was shocking to see some pied female professors break out a cigarette when walking across campus, light up and begin to puff. I didn’t begin that terrible habit until I was older and transferred to a college in Tennessee for a couple of semesters for the explicit reason of having fun that I could not have at UK with dances, sorority and fraternity events governed by overarching remnants of grandfather clauses, etc.

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