*Editor’s Note: This article has been modified from its original print publication* – UPDATED DEC. 23, 7:45 p.m. ET
Heading off to college is a monumental moment for a high schooler. It’s a change of pace, a real chance to test out the wings without the assured protection from mom and dad. The promise of that new experience bears its own weight, but coupled with an athletic scholarship at a predominantly-White institution, or PWI, therein lies a new set of challenges.
Adele Bradley, a freshman on the Duquesne University volleyball team, has spent the entirety of her first semester becoming more accustomed to said challenges. Bradley hails from South Carolina. She attended Blythewood, a local predominantly-Black high school.
She called Duquesne University “a different environment here. The transition was really big because there’s two different cultures, from South Carolina and at this school, which is predominantly-White.”
Overall, Bradley said, “It’s been a great experience, I feel welcomed by everybody so far, and people have been helping me adapt to the school.”
Diversity matters, especially in PWIs, because it is an opportunity for everyone, Black or White, to become more aware of other cultures and, hopefully, more accepting of them.
Jaryd Jones-Smith, a senior on the football team for the University of Pittsburgh, can easily relate to Bradley.
“The first thing I did was join an organization with other Black students, Athletes in Action,” Jones-Smith said. “It helped me to be more comfortable at the school being surrounded by a good amount of the Black population at the same time.”
Since then Jones-Smith has become more active at the university, becoming a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. this past spring.
“I haven’t had any specific difficulties with anything racially, but I can tell that some people here don’t know how to approach me because of my race I feel like,” Bradley said, “but I’m open to everybody.”
Bradley went into detail: “Some people, they just don’t know how to approach me and you can tell, and some people have even asked me, ‘Oh how are you, and do you mind me asking what’s your race? and stuff like that, that’s the first thing that comes out of their mouth,” Bradley said. They “want to be my friend, but they don’t know how to approach me, so that’s the first thing they ask. I just say that I’m mixed, I’m Black and White, but I don’t really think that matters.”
Bradley has had the opportunity to connect with others and develop strong relationships outside of students who were there solely for an education. She came to Duquesne to pursue a major in Environmental Science. She chose Duquesne because it was one of the few schools that offered her the opportunity to be active in her studies while playing the sport she loves at the highest level collegiately.
The Duquesne University women’s volleyball team currently has four African American players on the roster, two of which are freshmen, including Bradley. Bradley said she has developed strong relationships with not only the other Black girls on her team, but the White ones as well.
“My teammates are really like my sisters. I’ve grown to have a really close bond with some of them,” Bradley said. “They push me to be better.”
Jones-Smith, a communications major from New Jersey, agrees.
“My teammates have pushed me to be a better leader overall. Now, in my senior year, I can see how that has translated to my ability to thrive in a large community of White students while being one of a small number of Blacks,” Jones-Smith said.
According to data from the website collegedata.com, the University of Pittsburgh, with 19,123 undergraduate students, is 6.9 percent African American, 71 percent White. Duquesne, with 6,039 students, is 5.5 percent Black, 83.8 percent White. Penn State’s main campus is 4.7 percent Black, and Carnegie Mellon University is 5.5 percent Black (36.3 percent White, 36.1 percent Asian). Point Park University has the highest percentage of Black students in the Pittsburgh area, besting Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 14.9 to 12.3 percent.
Bradley knows that in many of her classes, she is only one of a few African Americans. But she said her professors are just as, if not more, sympathetic to her and her African American counterparts. “I can tell that they have a better understanding for minorities and because of this they try to make us feel extra comfortable and welcomed,” Bradley said.
A college education is nothing to sneeze at and neither is the opportunity to receive one at a university that is outside of one’s comfort levels, academically, relationally, athletically, etc. Bradley has found her experience to be quite beneficial thus far.
“The most exciting part of my academic career has been the exposure to a more advanced curriculum because in the South it’s not as rigorous as it is here, so being exposed to that and having to adapt has been a challenge,” Bradley said. “I’ve enjoyed it because I feel like I’m actually learning something.”