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Culture Shock!

October 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Note:  It became my realization early on that “apartness” often produces shock waves among citizens of the same general culture when one arm does not fully know or understand how the lives of the other arm differs or function.  And, sometimes the less dominant arm expects that the more dominant arm lives (lives) of perfection as standard bearers. The advent of ever-changing, ubiquitous television has served to make for a more realistic transparency over the years.

Generic Freshman Adjustment Plus Racial Overtones, Innuendos, etc.

For me, it was both during my initial on-campus stay at the University of Kentucky. On the one hand was the distance of being many miles away from home reached only by a long and laborious Greyhound Bus ride with quite a few layovers if I had an emergency. (Most undergraduate students were not allowed cars at that time and flying home into Bowling Green was not a reality then.)

The very physical freshman adjustment was rather generic and can be thought of as being separate and basically devoid of the racial concerns that the civil rights era presented. On the other hand loomed unmistakable “in-your-face, hard-to-dismiss”
racial occurrences. This post in this series on campus life as a Negro in the early 1960’s addresses both as sometimes one gives context for the other and thus presents a “double whammy” with which to concurrently contend.

Questions I pondered often … Were my expectations of what college life should be like on a predominantly white campus that were totally out of sync with the realities of that time? Or had I been sheltered too long and too often by a large helicoptering family of kin, church, and school? Or was it the University and its environs that were so different that I had every right to exist in wonderment at my newly-found experiences? In hindsight, I suppose the real answers encompass all of the preceding.

“Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.”

To begin with and to this day, I continue to be amazed at how any of us survived the first week of all day long and all night long screaming sirens sounded from Good Samaritan Hospital located right next door and up closely to the freshmen dormitories for girls. I am not sure which institution came first, but juxtaposition was a “Very Bad Idea.” Took me forever to become oblivious.

Then there were Limestone and Upper Streets, main thoroughfares which students needed to cross several times a day. I stood in shock as longtime students just crossed these streets wherever, whenever, and however without stopping or looking out for cars as though they, themselves, were non-destructible. And the next miracle was that the traffic seemed to expect it. Believe it or not the cars slowed down or stopped as though everyone expected that phenomenon! As a young person of color, I was afraid to take that risk as I had read about too many Southern tragedies involving my kind in similar circumstances.

I was literally beside myself when I finally found my advanced algebra class, and encountered a huge auditorium-sized room with a young professor accompanied by two proctors who monitored the center and outside aisles to assist students as needed. Of course, and as usual, I was the only non white student present. I struggled with that class! An entering test score put me there, but I certainly did not belong and as I would find out later, many others didn’t either.

Most of my math mates had come from large, highly ranked schools with advanced math classes like calculus and trigonometry. My minority school offered only Algebra II as the top math class in which I had made an A. Not enough. Curiously enough, what I remembered most about this class was an event that took place after the exam and our return from Christmas break. Some students complained that the answer posted in the display case in the hallway was not the answer they could attain. After the young teacher struggled at a front board to show them how to get the answer, and couldn’t, he turned crimson, faced the class, and exclaimed: “Hell, I don’t have to work these damn problems; all I have to do is give them.” Needless to say, I heard later that he was placed on probation one semester for awarding too many F’s, and still later terminated. Unheard of by any teacher I had ever known.

Strewn Panties, Bras, etc. A Regular on Botanical Gardens Pathway

Socially, I was nonplussed to see panties, and bras scattered all over Botanical Gardens most mornings before the cleanup crews arrived. I suppose they were leftovers from the night before. Botanical Gardens then was a beautiful, large conversation-like sculptured pit with beautiful (some exotic) plants and flowers. It contained concrete benches that separated academic building on campus and were probably designed to give those who passed through a place of repose. I had to go through that enclave to reach my freshman English and speech classes. I finally became accustomed to seeing such paraphernalia each dewy morning that I had to go to those classes.

Botanical Garden photo from UK 1960 yearbook

Photo of UK’s Botanical Gardens, page 7 from the Kentuckian 1960

(To be continued)

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