I just completed my freshman year of college, and words cannot express how much of a blast and an eye opener my first year was. When choosing the right college for me, I searched for three essential characteristics: a collaborative environment, small class sizes, and professors that are well credentialed and accessible. After weighing many options, I chose to attend Ohio Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts college in the small predominately White and conservative suburb of Delaware, Ohio.
When I tell people where I attend college the first question I hear is “Why Ohio?” Why would I choose to leave one of the most glamorous cities in the world for a small town where “white folks” will make me feel unwelcomed? Why would I turn down college options such as Berkeley, one of the most prestigious and liberal campuses in the country, for a small school in “Trump territory?” These are all questions that I heard repetitively, but was unable to answer clearly. Having been raised in the big city of Los Angeles, and attended school at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, I have been exposed to very diverse environments. Throughout high school, I excelled in activities such as Speech and Debate, Mock Trial, and the Academic Decathlon, all activities that are either predominately White or have only a handful if any Black participants. Being one of very few minorities in a predominately White environment is nothing new to me, and while I have been around White people for the entirety of my life, I still have learned to stay true to my roots.
However, what was most worrisome about going to college in suburban Ohio was that I would leave behind family and friends who would not be physically present to comfort me if I encounter overt discrimination. I would be starting an entire new chapter of my life. I knew that if I faced harsh challenges I would have to stay focus, remain strong, and survive on my own for four years. However, it was a risk that I took and I was prepared for whatever challenges life would throw at me.
As August of 2016 began to approach, I was nervous. Not only because I was leaving home for a substantially long period of time, but because I was walking into the unknown. Not only was I walking into the unknown, but I was walking into an environment that many relatives and peers told me would be unwelcoming to a person of my skin color and outspokenness.
The political climate during the time I was transitioning to college was hostile. Currently, this country is very divided in terms of where we lay on the political spectrum. I am a huge California liberal, and I knew that moving to a town that was Pro-Trump would be a challenge as I was very unreceptive to hearing the viewpoints of the politically conservative. I did not want to hear their reasoning for believing in the necessity of building a wall or banning immigrants from certain countries. I did not want to hear their advocacy for traditionalism because the cultural traditions of this country are often based on White Supremacy. That is what I believed Trump’s campaign to advocate for and that is why I refused to be receptive to their beliefs.
Upon arrival I met my three suitemates, one from Jamaica, one from Pakistan, and another from New Jersey. We all had exciting stories to tell about our upbringings, and we all had a very similar sense of humor. At a small campus with less than two thousand students, I can be an active participant in my classes that often seat less than twenty other students. While eating at the very few dining halls on such a small campus, I established friendships through conversations about sports, politics, and the material we are learning in our classes. I have many friends who attend different universities across the nation, but very few have been able to say that their assigned roommates eventually became some of their closest friends.
For the first time in my life I am residing in an area that has no racial diversity. Only White people are working in fast-food restaurants, supermarkets, car washes, and even as gardeners. These are the blue collared Americans that are often called “rednecks” based off of their appearance and way of speaking. There are times when I did receive unfriendly glares. Occasionally, I do receive the stare that some people give when they are uncomfortable with a Black person present. There are times when I do not feel comfortable, and while I expected those awkward occurrences, there are some aspects of being in that town that I did not expect.
The amount of hospitality that I receive from the citizens of Delaware County still surprises me. Often, I will eat off campus at the local diner that everyone in town knows about and has visited. There are countless times when I would ask the waiter for my bill, and as soon as I do so he would say to me “Somebody’s already paid for your meal.” The people who offered to pay for my meals are not wealthy individuals throwing their money around. They are hourly blue-collared workers that have been raised since birth to welcome guests, uphold the values of the Christian faith, and treat your neighbor “as you would thyself.” When walking downtown, which is only three blocks long, many of these conservative White individuals will begin friendly conversations with me by saying “You aren’t from here are ya?” I began sharing stories of my life, and I am often asked “Why the hell would a California boy come down here where there’s nothing but buckeyes and cornfields?” The friendliness I experienced in small town America is one that I have not before been exposed to, and with this experience I am now able to give a modern day characterization of what is often called “salt of the earth” type people.
Given the divisive nature of our country, I am more able to accept the outcome of the 2016 election because I know that a great number of Trump supporters did not cast their ballots with negative intentions. While I strongly disagree with the politically conservative, these exact same Trump supporters are the ones who often offered to pay for my meals just to exhibit what they view as common hospitality. It was these conservative individuals who invited me to their homes for dinner, just as a way to welcome me to the community. These same advocates for Donald Trump, who are members of the town and have no affiliation with the university whatsoever, are the ones who offered to give me a ride to the airport, which is thirty miles away, for absolutely no charge. It was these conservative White individuals, who are often labeled “rednecks,” that showed a young Black male from Los Angeles, California a level of humility, sincerity, and kindness that I have never seen before. This just goes to prove what I already believed: that there are good and bad people of every race and culture. I then realized that not all Trump supporters are bigoted, and not all conservative Whites are bad people. I now realize that I cannot let political views alone determine the character or personality of a person. Therefore I can say in total confidence that due to these qualitative aspects of Delaware, Ohio and Ohio Wesleyan University, I made the wisest decision when choosing my college of attendance.