Alicia Bell ‘06 held a Zoom event on Tuesday, Feb. 23, entitled “Persistent Inequities: Race and Universities,” about her DePauw experience as a Black student, as well as the deep-rooted racial discrimination Black people face both in college and society.
Bell practices law at the Tampa Bay Law Firm. She also served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida through Children’s Legal Services prosecuting parents who abused, abandoned and neglected their children.
Before she entered undergraduate at DePauw, she grew up surrounded by Black people and believed Blackness is “the finest and the best.” However, as she reflected on her childhood, her mother explained another perspective of being Black.
“My mother grew up in the south. She talked about the oppression and discrimination she experienced as a child,” Bell said. “[There were] white only and black only water fountains.”
Bell’s mother emphasized that education was the key to unlocking every door in America. With this in mind, Bell pursued higher education at DePauw University.
Bell was met with culture shock when she entered DePauw. Though her mother explained to her the negative experiences that can come with being Black, she still had a positive image about her identity since she had never been around many white people in her life. She genuinely believed that blackness is “the finest and the best.” However, she faced the reality of racial discrimination at DePauw.
“I was made to feel like a second class citizen every day on this campus,” she said. “I experienced mental and emotional abuse and stress. I was treated badly… DePauw was a traumatic experience.
“I was quickly corrected [of my original perception],” she added.
She was labeled as the remedial student requiring additional educational support. This labeling was not done randomly.
Bell was forced to participate in class discussions and give her “Black” perspective.
“The discussion of race was unavoidable,” Bell said. “Race was taught as the foundation of theory of public education and all other concepts or theories were stacked on top of that, so it was a scaffolding process…I didn’t raise my hand. I tried to avoid eye contact with my professors, and that made me even more a target for them to ask me what I thought about everything.”
Not only her, but also other black people on campus experienced a “collective rejection from the institution and students.” Thus, she needed to find social and emotional support on campus.
“I thought AAAS and Delta Sigma Theta were my sacred spaces, and that they would substitute the feeling of being immersed in blackness that I experienced at home,” Bell said.
Despite her negative experiences at DePauw, she was still able to have more academic opportunities that developed her as a whole person.
“[Professor Peterson] created opportunities with other professors where I had a summer research project that I got to speak at a conference,” Bell said. “This comprehensive educational experience took what I knew about being black and American to the next level. I was not only exposed to a challenging classroom experience.”
Bell has also faced racism throughout her career path beyond her college experience.
“Black people cannot depend on these racist environments to give you skills you need to excel,” Bell said. “I realized underrepresentation of Black people is grounds for racist work environments.”
However, she added that there were a variety of potential employers attracted to her Black studies background.
She noticed that Black college students faced a lot of obstacles including feeling insecure, not seeing Black representation in academic majors, and noticing the lack of investment by professors and the lack of social organizations for Black students.
“[While not all] Black students at DePauw have the same experience, [they all] fight for every ounce of dignity,” Bell said.
She insisted how important it is for students of other races to collaborate with each other.
“The Black community alone cannot fix racial inequities at DePauw. White students, faculty, administrators and staff have a responsibility to be committed to the promotion, advocacy and guarantee of an equal education experience for Black students,” she said.
Lastly, she advised Black students to talk to their professors and start practicing the skills required for their career.
“Start talking, and start getting to know people because that’s how you build your network,” Bell said.