How Women Of Color Are Navigating Dating At Predominantly White Institutions


Trevor Jackson & Yara Shahidi
By Lauren R.D. Fox

I religiously watch the hit series grown-ish because it allows me to reminisce about the college experience I had at a predominantly white institution (PWI). Not only is the show relatable but it sheds light on issues women of color often face in an honest, balanced and digestible manner.

In the middle of the season, one episode pulled at my heartstrings. Titled, “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp,” the installment highlighted the dating struggles women of color (WOC) face while studying on a PWI campus. I always assumed women of color who attended schools in metropolitan areas would have a better chance at a diverse dating pool unlike those who matriculated at schools located in rural demographics. Unfortunately, I was wrong. During a conversation with my close friend Desiree, alumnae of Columbia University, I realized our experiences were eerily similar.

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My senior year, a bi-racial male student who I had a crush on DMed me on Facebook. Our conversation was flirty and then took a sharp turn when we began sexting. He asked for my number and sent me a picture of his whole “baby arm.” CHILE. I was intrigued since I was a virgin at the time. After the steamy exchange, we went on a date but something felt off. Not in a bad way but our in-person chemistry didn’t make my juices flow. We continued to keep in touch but that came to a halt when he played himself. He thought it would be okay to not acknowledge me when his white friends were around.

Desiree (who identifies as Afro-Latina) also shared that a racially-ambiguous Latino male classmate initiated sexual advances towards her via AIM but she wasn’t too impressed when he tried to use Spanish and ethnic colloquialism to get her in between his twin bed sheets. Especially since he spent most of his time passing as white on their Ivy League campus. No matter the type of school or student makeup, it’s disgusting when a man or anyone uses your race. ethnicity or complexion to appeal or shun you whenever they feel like it.

Since my friends and I graduated college eons ago, you know, back in the day when Facebook pokes, BBMs and AIM were used to shoot a shot, I decided to interview female students who are currently enrolled at my alma mater, SUNY Geneseo in Upstate New York. I wanted to know how they are navigating and negotiating dating, sex and relationships with respect to their races, cultures and gender identities. They poured me some candid, hot tea that I’m ready to serve you.

During our conversation, Senior student, Euni spoke about feeling fetishized by her white male classmates.
"When I've tried to date those outside of my community, such as straight white men, it never worked. Many times when encountering these men, I came to learn that they didn't actually like me, they liked the idea of me and the idea of being with their first Black girl. I was just always fetishized."
Ashley, a Latina senior, shared similar sentiments but noted that her white boyfriend had to get accustomed to her enjoying her culture even though it’s often labeled as “ratchet” or “ghetto” in mainstream society.
“I know that I can be pretty ratchet sometimes, which I will try to avoid if I’m talking to a guy. When I was only sleeping/talking to Matt, I didn’t really dance crazy with my friends or say the words I did. Once me and him were boyfriend/girlfriend, I kind of let loose and acted like myself. At times he didn’t like it but he ended up accepting the fact that I like to rap the verses to most Nicki Minaj or Cardi B. songs.”
Sophomore Janelle says men of color (MOC) sometimes act different when interacting with women versus how they behave with their male friends. Ashley confirms this wack behavior happens often.
“My friend, Sana* was hooking up with this guy Troy* for the longest time. He would completely deny ever being with her but still continuously hit her up on the weekends to go over to his place. I’ll never forget the one time at a party, he walks past her while holding onto a white girl completely ignoring her like she didn’t exist. After that incident, she never spoke to him again.”
All the women who participated in this interview agreed that there are MOC on campus who have openly expressed that they don’t like Black women at all or are just not interested in the WOC who live on campus. Euni believes most of them are not in touch with their culture or have complex issues with what Blackness represents. Senior Leah says despite this, her friends have lucked out with amazing MOC who don’t subscribe to self-hate or shallow ideals. She also expressed that dating men of color on campus can be difficult because the people of color’s community is very small and after a while, feels like family. I found this to be true when I attended Geneseo; some male students became community peen and their lack of discrepancy at times made for sloppy campus drama. When asked how or if Donald Trump’s presidency affected social interactions between students, the women noted there was tension on campus but it wasn’t anything they weren’t used to. It also didn’t make them shrink who they are and what they represent.

“While being at Geneseo, because of the lack of diversity here, I've actually become more proud in my Blackness. I take more pride in who I am, my skin color, my physical traits, and especially my hair,” Euni lamented. “We’re all more outspoken than other people. So, when these times do occur, we then turn around and say “and who cares what they think?” Janelle said in agreement. “It takes being a community, I personally feel, to have that confidence.”

How is/was your experience dating in PWI? 
Lauren R.D. Fox is a Guyanese-American pop culture/beauty editor and writer who has an undying love for soca fetes, poulorri, New Orleans and deep conditioners. After graduating from SUNY Geneseo with a dual concentration in American and Black Studies, she became a journalist and social media manager. Lauren has previously written for MadameNoire, Mayvenn Hair, Wetpaint, Enstarz, Her Agenda, Zora Magazine and B.Couleur Magazine. Follow her at @LOLOTHEFOX.

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