When Maloni Wright decided to attend William & Mary, she realized she was missing out on the experience she could’ve had at a historically black college or university.
But three years into her college experience, she has decided to take her time at William & Mary and create change on a campus with a small black population.
“At William & Mary, our black community is small,” she said. “It makes us tight-knit but it can feel isolating at a school where people might come from the same socio-economic backgrounds but not necessarily share the same experiences because of race and other factors.”
Wright joined the Black Student Organization as a freshman as a way to meet people similar to her but as a junior, she has stepped up to become vice president of the organization and has helped plan events like the annual “Stompfest.”
Since 2004, the organization has been hosting Stompfest, which features students from some of the “divine nine,” which are traditionally black National Pan-Hellenic Greek organizations on campus.
Wright said the event occurs during Homecoming Weekend each year because students realized that at historically black colleges or universities, there are typically events that celebrate black history and culture during homecoming weekends. But since William & Mary is a “predominantly white institution,” she said, the school didn’t seem to have many resources.
Since it started, the event has become popular and sells out each year.
“I think it’s important to make other people aware of these experiences,” she said. “Because it’s very hard to empathize with someone if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.”
Wright said the school’s Center for Student Diversity does a good job of trying to bring together students from different backgrounds, but the Black Student Organization provides a unique perspective.
“When you go to classes, you feel the need to prove more,” she said. “Sometimes black students feel like they have something to prove because they’re at an institution like this where you can feel like you’re not good enough.”
Black students on campus have a very different experience, she said, because there are so few. According to the college’s website, only 9 percent of students are black.
“I think because we are so small, one of the good things is we are close-knit,” she said. “But it’s still different, it makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room which can be stifling.”
In the coming months, the group is organizing a student panel that will feature speakers from the William & Mary graduate schools and, potentially, from the Hampton University.
Wright said the goal is to learn the pros and cons of attending an black college or university for graduate school instead of a predominantly white institution. One of the aspects she already knows is the level of social comfort that comes from being at a school with people who have shared experience.
“When someone tells another person they’re going to Howard, no one is shocked,” she said. “When you say you’re going to William & Mary, though, they get confused.”
In her three years at the college, Wright said she has seen these events open eyes and create a greater community of understanding on campus. While there is still more change she would like to see, she said she thinks the work her organization is doing is making a real difference.
“A lot of times on campus, when you look around sometimes it can look a little like self-segregation,” she said. “While it’s great to see we are coming to the same things, if we can intermingle more, we won’t feel like there is a sense of self-divide.”