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Sisterhood in White Institutions: An Open Letter to the Black Women at SMU




Dear Black Women at SMU,

Repressed memories came up as I read the racist sentiments of some of the women at your institution, which in essence stated that Black women weren’t: smart, rich, or pretty enough to be in white sororities. For readers who are unaware of this sorority scandal, you can read the full story here. As I scrolled through the hateful comments,  I thought about my own undergraduate experience at a predominately all-white women’s college. As a black woman coming from a severely low-income background, I wasn’t prepared to feel so utterly isolated. Although I was accepted under a merit-based scholarship, I felt like I was an intruder, like the institution had thrown me a bone by accepting me. I was surrounded by women in pearls and polo shirts, who played lacrosse, equestrian, and participated in weekly afternoon teas. I was a stranger in a strange land.

[RELATED POST: I’m Black, and I’m Not Proud To Be A Bruin]


Never before had I needed black sisterhood more than in my college years. There were racial lines that didn’t need to be verbalized. I saw them when I looked at the overwhelming number of young black women who served food in the dining rooms for their work study assignments. I saw them when I felt invisible in the dining hall on an unlucky day when I couldn’t find a welcoming face of color. I saw them when my classmates dressed in blackface on Halloween. I inherently knew to be wary and watchful of my social interactions with my white counterparts because there were lines; silent, yet screaming.  I had a choice to make: Surrender my proud black identity, assimilate into white, mainstream culture and silence my voice, or find other women navigating this hostile terrain and build sisterhood. I chose the latter. Without  black sisterhood, I don’t think I would have made it. My self-destructive thoughts of wondering if I was intelligent or deserving enough was exhausting and I needed people who understood.

To the black women at Southern Methodist University, I and many others are with you. Find sisterhood among yourselves, you will save each other. Don’t second guess your intelligence; you are entitled to be at the table, sitting proudly and serving no one. Don’t second guess your beauty; you are radiant.  Don’t spend your time bending yourselves finding white sisterhood, find strength and solace in your own.

Featured Image: Photo Credit Joel G Mwakasege Jr. /CC

Heather was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena, California and proudly claims Oakland as her adopted home. She has a B.A. in African-American Studies from Smith College (proud Smithie), and a Masters in Education Leadership from New York University. Heather's spent the past decade working in the field of educational equity and advocacy. She currently teaches Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University and manages a blog called What's Happening Black Oakland? She also contributes to Blavity, a blog for black millennials. Heather's committed to writing interesting and relevant stories that aren't being covered by the mainstream media, while straying away from the single story that is usually imposed on people of color. In her free time she enjoys traveling and going to live shows.

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