THE BLOG
01/09/2014 11:58 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2014

Getting Real About Race on Campus

Two days before the dorms officially closed and after the majority of students had returned to their natural habitats, it was just before midnight and I was still on campus. With my first semester at Tufts winding down, it was a perfect college cliché that what happened that night would as it did.

In bed, indulging in a healthy dose of Netflix in my Blue UFO onesie that has garnered the adoration of all my friends, I was confronted with my roommate, who scolded me for being so lame and not spending time with him. His puppy dog eyes tore my soul into pieces, and so I headed over to a friend's room to chill. And how chill it turned out to be, indeed.

An hour into said chill session, a guy I hadn't met before wandered in and took a seat directly across from me. We introduced ourselves and he said he recognized me from some of my Facebook posts. Honestly, I was worried that he would come out swinging against my posts on education or poverty inequality, or start spewing some crap about how we live in a post-racial America. I've garnered a reputation of sorts for posting things that many people care about, and simultaneously, things that too few people truly understand the gravity of. This faulty assumption, however, was the result of judging a book by its cover in the boldest sense --the guy was wealthy, white, and from the great state of Texas.

And then, the real shit of the night kicked in.

I define real shit as the genuine instances in which beyond seemingly permanent college fogs of homework, Hennessy, and hypocrisy, we meet one another on the most common of grounds for a moment and set our egos aside in favor of educating one another.

Half-asleep in the beginning but wholly honest and direct throughout, we spoke of the immense differences in where we came from; poverty and wealth, Houston and Detroit, privileges and disadvantages. We talked about white privilege and its permeating societal effect on minorities, talked about how he felt in the minority culture centers, and how I felt everywhere else on campus. What was, perhaps, the most insightful thing I gained from the candidness of our conversation (which lasted until 8:30 in the morning) is how at ease we were with one another and how uneasy he said he normally would be asking these questions.

We were both aware of how rarely conversations like ours was happening around us on campus. After a few hours, more of our friends, who were white and initially apprehensive, became engaged in our conversation, as well as an Asian student (I was the only Black or Latino student present). The comfort that we displayed with one another and with the points of discussion at hand helped people come out of their shells and made them feel as if on that day, in that dorm room, it was safe for them to say what they were thinking, ask questions they had long pondered, and most of all, listen.

I hope we become more resolute about telling our own stories to one another in our dorms and dining halls rather than relying on forums, diversity reports, academic speakers and the most vocal or verbose amongst our student body to do it for us. There is something sincerely beautiful about listening to the story of someone's life one-on-one, rather than regurgitating books we've read and statistics that promote polarization over progress at one another.

Because that night, I told him stories of growing up black and Latino and poor and gay in Detroit, being mugged twice, and craving whiteness in my childhood as if it was angel food cake.

He told me about the first time he had been to a Baptist church service with a Black friend, and how inviting it was... how warm and welcomed he felt, and how he craved for that feeling more often.

And that discussion, about the intricacies of things like white power, black hair, interracial dating, and class stereotypes was had not by between two emeritus professors quoting their latest books or political pundits going tit-for-tat, but between two college kids who could do nothing but talk about their personal experience and hit the ground running. I see no better place to start a conversation from than there.

So thank you, Noah. For reminding this college-surviving, Black and Latino brother, that the best conversations are never one way. I won't forget it, and I hope you don't, either.