Tyreese Smith: My College Experience As A Black Student

This post was written by my friend and fellow blogger, Tyreese Smith. Keep reading to hear about his first semester of college and how he overcame some obstacles in life!

College is a new experience for a lot of us. Leaving high school, saying goodbye to our loved ones and adjusting to adulthood, it can be very difficult and comes with a lot of responsibility.
On March 23, 2019 I attended accepted students’ day at the school that would eventually become my home for a semester. The President’s opening speech was very appealing. I learned a lot more about my career interests in the business career fair and the hospitality was great. One thing that stood out to me the most about that day was the multicultural student services. I attended their session before I left on the visit and it really opened my eyes. I also got a chance to meet the Head Director of the Multicultural Student Services. He is a great example of a leader, mentor, and a big brother. Throughout his session, he briefly explained the multicultural services on campus, what they do and how it impacts students of color on campus. The session really caught my attention and I was glad to end my day on that note. After the visit was over, me and my family went to the PNC Cafeteria for Lunch. We briefly discussed the day, but I switched conversation midway through our meal to talk about college. I explained to them how I narrowed down all my options and I felt this was the college for me. Once people from back home heard the news, and I posted it on my social media, everybody was very proud of me and wishing me congratulations. I even caught people’s attention from the school already and gained some recognition with followers on social media. It was a brand-new experience for me, and I was very blessed to find a way out of Harrisburg.
Throughout the rest of my senior year, I continued my track & field career by making the District Championships and preparing for graduation. Being at Districts was a great experience since I had missed the past couple of seasons due to missing marks, or facing injury. I finally put my foot down senior year and started focusing more on track by doing a lot of work outside of Susquehanna Township practices. Workouts that included practicing with The Milton Hershey School where my father went to school and coaches at, and spent many hours at Roscoe Warner Stadium 2-3 hours after mandatory practice to work on jumping technique. My season ended at Districts where I missed the state mark by about 7 inches (44’5). It was very unfortunate, but I’ve gained many memories and friendships from participating in track & field at Susquehanna Township and I couldn’t be any prouder of what I overcame. The rest of the school year I attended prom, award ceremonies and graduated as an honor student. Graduation was a very exciting, but hard time as well. Leaving all the people you grew up with and many of us moving on made it a very emotional time. But spending your last time with everybody and having all eyes on you for your graduation night, I cherished the moment. I’m still friends with a few people from high school, but I still keep everybody in prayers and wish nothing but the best for them!
My first semester of college didn’t start off the way I wanted it too. I found out that my friend, Jonathan Fagan passed away the night before I moved in and I was devastated. I played Basketball with him for years and had so many memories filled with laughter with him in AAU Basketball off the court. It was a very hard time dealing with moving into college, getting adjusted and a friend that passed away. Over time it was hard not thinking about that tragedy and being far from home as it started taking a toll on my social life and schoolwork. Some days I couldn’t stop thinking about things going on back home and a lot of days I just hung out in my room and balled up. I was hard on myself as I felt I chose the wrong school, going to another place where I wasn’t ready to adapt yet and building a better life for myself. I told myself, “If I put myself in this situation, I need to find myself out of it.” I decided it would be best to transfer schools and find other options where I can continue my studies and be a lot closer. I felt this was the best situation for me at the moment and things were going to fall in place sometime soon. Tragedy then hit again soon early October where I started getting really depressed, angry and ended up smashing my phone. I wanted to distance myself from the world because I felt really alone, but it ended up being a bad decision and it cut off communication from my parents. Some ways I copped with my issues was changing around my mentality and daily routine. I knew I was putting myself in a hole by my thoughts and living in the past so I had to think more positive. This came by taking study breaks while studying so I don’t over work myself, eating dinner early and eating healthier foods such as grabbing salads, drinking milk again, etc. Being away from home at first was a very different and humbling experience for me, but I learned from my mistakes and I started opening up to people about my struggles. I really appreciate my family for hearing me out about my frustration, but also the director of the Multicultural Student Services for taking me under his wing as a mentee.Things got a little better after a while. Grades started improving, I started working out again and I began to work as well. “Getting that money, ya feel me.” I started feeling like I had a purpose in the world again even though I was in a bad situation.

My experience wasn’t the greatest, but at times there were positives. Playing intramural basketball, working at the Events Center for basketball games, and nights out with the good friends I had up there are great memories that I’ll remember forever. I met a lot of people who have left a positive impact on me. I also want to shout out my roommate, Zachary for being a great example and supporting friend to me these past couple months. We’re two different people who come from two different worlds, but managed to get to know each other and have made the best out of being roommates. Last, I’d like to thank the former director of the multicultural department at my first college for everything he’s done. He was one of the main reasons I chose the school and his presence and motivating speeches have really enlightened me over time and have built me up as a person. He did a great job of running the multicultural student services, but he can’t do all the work to keep African American students on campus and I feel he doesn’t get enough credit for it. A lot of black students and other minorities have left this campus due to the school not having enough culture. As people of color we face a lot of negative encounters as well being in a Predominately White Institution (PWI). A lot of challenges that come with being black at predominately white schools come with a lot of factors. Diversity is the biggest problem as we are already outnumbered in the demographics. For example, at Robert Morris there were about 72% of caucasian students, 10% of asian students and 8% black students from when I last viewed the statistics of students last year. We are already outnumbered as black students at PWI’s and it causes a lot of problems. It causes problems from the academic standpoint and social aspect. From the academic standpoint, It was my first time being in a classroom where sometimes I was the only black student there. I come from a diverse school district where I was in classrooms with people of all backgrounds. So the new experience was definitely a culture shock. It was weird for me as sometimes I had a few professors who didn’t know how to speak to me when I asked for help because I was the odd ball out. It was sort of like small talk and awkward so most of the time I just emailed them instead to avoid those types of interactions.. This caused several challenges throughout my first semester and even though I survived, it hit me that this is really how it is at a high level university being a black student. From the social aspect, it’s very different. Already looking different from every student there it was hard making friends. Going from Harrisburg to Moon Township, Pennsylvania it was a humbling experience leaving behind family for the first time and friends who I grew up with. I went up there as a stranger but with the type of personalities I knew up there, I stayed to myself. It was one of those schools where you had to be a “groupie” or someone who conforms to always being around people. It’s not a bad thing being around people all the time, but I noticed a lot of weird behavior such as people being negative towards their own “friends”, acting just like one another and a lot of times racist acts and remarks towards other groups. The racism happened a lot involving the white students starting it (no surprise), but I didn’t feel comfortable there with the black students either. A lot of them were cliquey and boujee people who had selective friend groups and most of the time talked down on people of their own. Hearing conversations whenever I was out with people and rumors, it made me feel uncomfortable and I had to distance myself. I didn’t have the best experience at a school that I thought I could see myself at. I’ve talked to many former students who transferred out and they told me certain reasons why they left, and I took their word for it. I noticed the signs early and I needed a way out before things got bad. I have many beliefs and stick to them, so the decision was a personal matter as well. Some advice for any new students of color looking to attend a PWI or currently at one, be yourself but be aware of the troubles you will face. You will be at a disadvantage with the demographics and your interactions with people. Make sure you stick with your people when things get bad and get along with them. Not every white student is out to get you, but excuse those who bring negative vibes such as racism, prejudice and not sticking up for you when things get out of hand. For academics, take advantage of office hours with your professors, academic advisors and other supporting staff. Not every person on the staff in their departments is entitled to themselves, most will want to help you if you’re seeking it. I learned after my first semester that it is important to make those connections early so you always have the help and support when needed during your college career.

An update on my life right now: I am currently at Harrisburg Area Community College for the Fall 2020 semester and will be transferring to Penn State Harrisburg in the spring semester next year. Hopefully I am there next spring semester, fingers crossed. I will be participating in Track & Field during my time at Penn State Harrisburg and looking for leadership opportunities in clubs and working on projects on campus to get involved and expand my network. I have currently been writing on my blog, POWERED BY REESE and I recently started doing freelance work with PennLive on their sports team. With POWERED BY REESE, I do freelance writing such as music articles where I interview musicians to shed light on them and showcase their talents, sports articles making player profiles for high school athletes doing evaluations and analyses on them and at times I release my poetry on there. I have been pretty successful in my personal blog as I’ve gained the respect and support from many and have worked with people all over such as Philadelphia, Italy, Atlanta, U.S. Virgin Islands, New Jersey areas, New York areas, Miami, DMV area, etc. The blog has also landed me an internship at PennLive under Brian Linder as I get to do coverage on high school games. After the events that happened last year and the unusual beginning to this current year, I have turned my life around. It took time to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do but taking the time to start my own platform and coming home, my life has turned around for the better. For anybody out there who is struggling or going through a rough time in life right now, hold on. Hold on, you are not alone. Always think of the positive outcomes in a situation, but don’t stay silent on your struggles. Hold on to your faith. Hold on to that rope and don’t let it break. Hold on and keep breathing because life is too short to be worried about the wrong things.

Thank you Camryn Wimberly for letting me share my story on being a black student in college and giving an update on my life currently. Camryn is a great example and a role model of a person. She’s humble, intelligent and a caring person who puts her heart into her writing. Thank you for giving me this opportunity!

Tyreese Christopher Smith is a Trinidadian American blogger, creator, journalist, producer and talent search recruiter. Tyreese found his success in late 2019 after creating his first blog, “Diversity Collection” where he showcased his poetry. Since then he has opened up his services to musicians, athletes and has connected with many other creators all over the world. 

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