Bradley University, class of 1971, represented the most significant number of black women enrolling at one time. Unless you came with a friend and requested her as a roommate, the university decided each black girl should have a white roommate. On the cusp of womanhood and away from home for the first time, the dormitory rules were arcane. Signing in and signing out of the dorm. CURFEW both during the week and the weekend. A signed permission form on file from your parents to leave the campus for overnight stays. The Dean of Women set the standards for student conduct. Infractions resulted in the withdrawal of the few privileges we had. The rule enforcers were the house mothers and undergraduate resident advisors. None of these women understood how to deal with the changing landscape of young black women arriving on campus.
Although the primarily white campus (PWC) was supposedly integrated, Bradley was not prepared for students who encountered racism daily and were participating in the civil rights struggle. My friends and I joined the dorm council to make our case for inclusion. Although we didn’t win every fight, we didn’t give up. When the inevitable culture clashes occurred, black women were urged to be more accommodating. Please don’t play Motown music while studying. Don’t talk or laugh so loudly. Make friends with your roommates. I walked in one day to see some white girl visitor lounging in my bed. I pitched a natural fit. “Who do you think you are in my bed?” On another occasion, I walked in to find my roommates using my popcorn popper without asking for permission. My response was, “Keep your hands off my things. You don’t even have the decency to ask or to clean up after yourselves.” We were not compatible, and I moved out at the end of the first semester. I didn’t go to college to be minimized or abused by other freshmen.
We filed complaints about the food, the lack of programming for black students, although we paid into the same student activities pot. Bradley employed one black faculty member and no black staff. Students had to engage directly with campus administrators to effect change. Fast forward to sophomore year. We’d found our voices. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King ushered in stronger calls for campus change and accommodations that were race-based.
The survivors moved into Heitz Hall, the sophomore dorm. Five rooms were set aside for us at the rear of the first floor. We were sister friends excited about living in physical proximity where we could study together and listen to our music without explanations. Away from the families of our origin, we talked late into the night, planned parties, learned our black history and determined how much support to give to the myriad issues facing black students on campus. Posters of Huey P Newton decorated the opposite wall of posters depicting the men of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. We ate together in the dining hall. Despite our diverse backgrounds, we’d become a family, sheltering together in the most critical ways.
White students occupied the dorm’s four floors but had problems with ten black girls living together. Quickly fed up with the foolishness, Candi took a black Vinyl tape and aligned it from the three dorm rooms on one side with the two dorm rooms on the other side and decreed, “Don’t come down to this end of the hall.” We enforced the black line with the strength of our words.
The Dean of Women left her comfortable office to “reason” with us. She engaged in the usual divide and conquer tactics. The wounds from being dismissed and marginalized during our freshman year were not healed. We were not backing down. Dean Brown made the resident advisor remove the black line. As soon as she left, we replaced the tape, and it remained there.
Photo credit: Featured: Bradley Hall: By AscendedAnathema, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2320140
Dormitories: By AscendedAnathema, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2320162
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.