It’s not unusual for students to come to college and feel like they are out of their element.
Junior Rachel Lockett had these same feelings during her freshman year. She is bi-racial, which makes her a minority on UW-Eau Claire’s campus.
“One of the first things I noticed was that there wasn’t a lot of variety on campus,” Lockett said. “Any sort of variation is going to stand out.”
Instead of dwelling on this, Lockett says she simply “got over it.” She attributes this to the support her parents always offered her growing up. Race was an open subject in her household, where her father is black and her mother is white.
Lockett doesn’t think of herself as just being bi-racial. That is just one aspect of her.
“Race is a social construct defined by society that doesn’t really exist, people just think it does,” she said.
Lockett grew up in Brooklyn Park, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities with a diverse racial population.
She attended Park Center High School, where the population was divided roughly into 60 percent white students and 40 percent minority students.
UW-Eau Claire’s predominantly white student population required some getting used to, Lockett said.
“In high school, there was the option of seeing and living with diversity,” she said. “Here, I had to make the transition to not having as many minorities around and accessible.”
One reason Lockett chose to attend Eau Claire was a Diversity Scholar award offered by the university.
The award is a four-year, full tuition scholarship awarded to five incoming Eau Claire freshmen. Students applying for it must be in the top 5 percent of their class, have an ACT score of 25 or higher, must complete an essay presentation, and be in a minority group.
When shopping around for potential schools, diversity was an important factor, Lockett said. “I always asked what the diversity ratio was,” she said.
She knew that Eau Claire was not as racially diverse as her high school. She said that her scholarship however, outweighed this factor.
Lockett is now in her third year at the university and finds that her old feelings of insecurity have disappeared, she said.
Once in a while, she will encounter some offensive behavior from other students. People often will make jokes or use racial slurs, she said.
“People get careless and won’t censor themselves. Often they don’t know they’re saying offensive things,” Lockett said. “I get tired of pointing things out and correcting people when they’ve said something that is inappropriate.”
She has learned to work through negative situations by representing herself in a positive way, she said.
As a second-year member and treasurer of BLSA (Black Latino Student Association), Lockett has found a way to demonstrate her leadership skills. Junior Persia Davis, the club’s co-vice president, said that Lockett is an asset to the club.
“Rachel is a smart, up-beat, caring person,” Davis said. “We’re glad to have her on the executive board. She really rounds it out in terms of her personality.”
Lockett’s personality has helped her make many friends around campus. She said she also doesn’t have predominately white or black friends.
“Sometimes bi-racial people will tend to relate to one race or the other. I feel that I have a good balance,” she said. “But sometimes, people of color do understand some issues better, like discrimination.”
Lockett points out that the racial reference she prefers for herself is bi-racial.
“That most accurately represents what I am,” she said. “Black or African American is fine as well. People see me and assume that I am black and I accept that.”
Lockett said that she never wants to be referred to as “mulatto.” “Mulatto means mule in Spanish,” she said. “that is neither flattering nor appropriate.”
Another thing that offends her is when people refer to her hometown as “ghetto” because of its large minority population.
“I love being from Brooklyn Park,” Lockett said. “I get used to being in Eau Claire, where I am exposed to a predominantly white population all the time. When I go home, it’s like, whoa back to reality!”