Today, I remembered what it felt like to be an “other.”
In 1977, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend college because I qualified as an “economically disadvantaged” student. It was a special program in New Jersey that still exists today called, “The Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF).”
There was a catch though.
You had to be willing to be treated like a second-class citizen.
Each school had the freedom to run its EOF program however the administration felt it would yield the best results. At Stockton, where I was admitted, we had to attend a special pre-admission summer session to assess whether we were “fit” for college. After all, the students in the program were all, you know, low-income.
We had to check into the dorms immediately after we graduated high school. Every morning at 6 a.m., we had to get up, boot camp style, and run a mile around the lake on the school’s campus. It was mandatory.
Next, it was a mad dash from the breakfast hall to all-day classes in remedial English and Math, breaking only for a quick lunch. There were grad school tutors who could smartsplain anything our low-achieving, yet promising, young minds couldn’t absorb. After classes, it was dinner, homework, and lights out. The program was regimented from morning to night. If you didn’t conform, you forfeited your scholarship.
Naturally, as a somewhat oppressed club, we banded together and became known as a group of “the other” around campus.
There were always looks and sneers from the other summer students, as the group noticeably stuck out as mixed race, on a predominantly white suburban campus. We were branded “EOF students” and all of us knew what that meant. Lesser than. Special, but not in a good way. In a demeaning way.
I hated that feeling. I couldn’t wait to get on with my education, rise above my station in life, and shed my “other” skin in the dustbin of the Pine Barrens.
Today I was reminded of how it felt. And it had to do with something as innocuous as Uber, the car-sharing service. I’ll explain that in another post. But, what I learned from this uncomfortable experience today is how effortlessly, because of the color of my skin, I was afforded easy social mobility once I got into the workforce.
I have no idea how many of my friends in that summer EOF program ever did finish college (I didn’t), or where they are today. But, I am sure that the POC had a harder time than I did. That, regardless of their stature, education, accomplishments, and strong families, they’ve been “the other” all their lives with no escape. It’s shameful I’m just seeing them now in my rearview mirror, today in 2016.
And it’s simply because someone made me feel bad about myself today.
Black lives matter. I’m getting it. Really getting it.