Villanova: The Land of the Dream and Home of the Nightmare

Guest Editorial: Kashae Garland

America is a divided land full of white people living in an ignorant bliss called “the Dream.”  Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me states that this Dream is a fantasy believed by white people who assume that racial equality has already occurred. They believe that white people and black people are able to live in harmony like Martin Luther King, Jr., described in his “I Have a Dream” speech  and assume that affirmative action has equalized the educational and professional playing fields (Coates 11). 

What actually exists is the continuing oppression of black people, including students. Their lived reality is not access to either the American Dream of equal opportunity or King’s social vision, but a nightmare that comes from the reactions from white students when fairer opportunities are provided. Before reading Coates’ memoir, I thought I could shut my eyes and see the American Dream as white Americans do and even become a part of it.  That was, in fact, how I felt on Candidates’ Day a year ago when I embarked not only on a great education but a full, inclusive college experience. But now, I find there is no such Dream or vision for me. After experiencing racism on campus, I realize that my education comes at an incalculable cost because of the color of my skin.

Prior to reading Coates’ book, I optimistically thought America was moving away from its past racism when I made the decision to apply to a predominately white institution for college. I remember clinging to my Vilanova acceptance letter with tears streaming down my face — as if the piece of paper was the embrace of society at large. That letter represented my hope for change. My admission seemed to confirm that the University envisioned me in its commitment to Veritas, Unitas and Caritas. It was like receiving a promise of future harmony between myself and all the other University students, just like the Dream alleged. 

As I saw other minority students around me on Candidates’ Day, listening to campus speakers who emphasize the push for diversifying the university, I felt that “Vanillanova” did not exist. But now, I realize that the campus had been transformed into a kind of “Dream” world where I saw other black students attending Villanova who seemed to be thriving.  I was tricked into closing my eyes and envisioning myself in the Dream that Villanova wanted me to see. The Dream promised that I would live peacefully with other students at my University, but I barely made it the first week without being met with cold stares as if I was an alien from another planet. I was placed in classes where I was the only person of color and never had anyone who seemed to work with me willingly. I heard microaggression stories from my friends and experienced them myself during orientation week. Although I was given a chance to receive a good education, “one racist act [was] all it [took]” to see the cost at being at a predominately white institution (Coates 145). But I experienced many such acts, from stereotype jokes to outright exclusion, in which I was treated like Homer Plessy: separate but equal.

In reality, I am the token black person who infiltrated a white university to help it meet its quota of minorities accepted. I am now part of a group of struggling students paraded in front of other fellow minorities to attract them to apply like I did. However, what will not be heard by these fellow minorities are the weekly phone calls with my mom, telling her, “I give up. I want to transfer.” These future minority candidates will not see the days when I dread going to certain classes, because I know that I am going to be excluded. They will not discover how miserable I am, or how I chose to be here without knowing the costs that came along with accepting. But I have discovered the reality that black people are “gifted” opportunities to attend Villanova in order to continue to benefit white American institutions like it. The contrast between my experience of Candidates Day and every day after Orientation — proves that the Villanova Dream is not tailored for black students at all. 

For this to change, white Villanovans need to “tumble out of the beautiful Dream and […] live down here with us, down here in the world” (Coates 143). They need to calculate the cost that comes at black students’ expense that essentially ensures white institutions like Villanova flourish as “diverse.” Here I am, with a year of a “great” education, but wondering if I should transfer because of the cost of living in a nightmare among those still living in the Dream may not be worth suffering.