Why Eau Claire? African American panelists discuss why they chose, stayed at university

Story by David Heiling, News Editor

As a part of Black History Month, three students shared their experience being an African American at UW-Eau Claire Monday in front of over 100 people in the Ho-Chunk Room in W.R. Davies Center.

The topics discussed included dorm life, stereotyping and use of the N-Word. Led by history professor Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, the students explained the hardships that occurred and what it was that kept them at Eau Claire.

Demetrius Evans, a junior and president of the Black Student Alliance, said one of her most memorable experiences with stereotyping at Eau Claire occurred when she was in the dorms.

“I lived in an overflow room with four other white girls,” Evans said. “One of the first nights there, one of my roommates asked me if I could talk black. That kind of tugged at me a little.”

Evans also mentioned the Multicultural Affairs Office and said how influential and helpful they have been in her college career. She also said the people in the office show acceptance and listen to minority students without trying to relate.

Vice President of BSA and sociology major Kyra Witcher said that without MAO in general and Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter in particular, she would not have stayed at Eau Claire.

“There are other places that I could be right now, thats for sure,” Witcher said. “People like Jodi and the workers at the office made me feel like I could be accepted here.”

After their speeches, Ducksworth-Lawton opened up the floor for audience members to ask the women questions. A man asked the panel if they had ever heard use of the N-Word before, directly or indirectly.

Evans said that she was in her dorm room with one of her roommates when the roommate’s boyfriend was on Skype and was introduced to him. The following greeting did not sit well with Evans, as he called her the “N-Word”.

“That’s not your place at all, you never call me that,” Evans said. “I was unbelievably pissed at this guy. I don’t even feel comfortable using it or to even think about it.”

Treasurer and business major Geraldine Ricks, the third African American woman on the panel, said she is more lax about stereotyping and the little things when it comes to being an African American, but with that word, she also gets uneasy.

“In certain cliques and between people that you are extremely comfortable with, I can understand,” Ricks said. But when it comes to something like my hair or something that seems to be changing all the time, people come and ask if they can touch it.”

The “Why did I Come to UW-Eau Claire?” panel is one part of the Black History Month series throughout the month of February. The next event will be a guide on how to be successful in the classroom and will include a panel of both faculty and students. The event is scheduled for 12 p.m. Feb. 12.