March 15, 2021
I stepped into Notre Dame knowing that I was going to be one of the minority students. I knew the numbers. I think at that point it was around 3-4%. Black. I stepped onto campus knowing that. But I remember knowing that if I wanted to thrive at ND I would have to figure out how to connect to the Black community. So people who kind of had a similar experience and similar background, in order to make sure I would always have this base of support, if anything ever happened, and things did happen. So I remember walking around campus during Welcome Weekend. Any Black person we would meet that was a first year I would be like, 'Hey, do you want to be added to a group chat?' Over time, we built this group chat of maybe 15 to 17 different Black students here at Notre Dame. Then we call it like Skittles, or something, because we played this game in the LaFortune Student Center basement with pool. But connected with that group, and that was the base of support for my first year.
On the last day of second semester my first year, I, as most people do, I think people do this, I went to the Dome to take photos after my last final. I remember being there with one of my friends. She was taking photos of me, I was taking photos of her. This man approached us. I think he had a family or maybe a wife. It was a small group. The first thing he says to us is like, 'Oh, hey, like, I know, it's not basketball. But what sport do you play?' I was a little bit thrown off by that. But I was like, okay, well, I am tall. I'm like 6'3". I have long legs. So I get the sentiment sometimes people can assume that I'm an athlete. I remember being like, 'Oh, no. No, I don't play sports. I played soccer a little bit in high school. And I ran cross country.' And he was like, 'No, no, no, you must play a sport here.' And I was like, 'No, I'm just here for school.' I thought that was enough. I thought that was good enough for him to kind of leave us alone, but he offered to take photos for us. I really didn't know how to say no. So I was like, okay, yeah, you help us take photos. So I was taking photos of my friend, he's taking them. Or actually, his wife is taking the photos. I throw up a peace sign just because that's what the cool people do now. And he's like, 'Hey, what gang sign is that?' I remember just being thrown off. And I was like, 'What do you mean?' He was like, 'No, like, what gang sign is that? I used to work in the prison system, and so I know all the different signs.' I was like, 'It's just a peace sign. It means I come in peace.' He was like, 'Man, you must be careful because you know that looks like a gang sign, especially here at Notre Dame.' We're all just like, okay, yeah, sure, and like walking away.
I laughed alongside my friend because my friend also realized that, she was White, but she also realized the implications of everything that was being said. But that tore me apart because I remember thinking, I made it to Notre Dame, I just finished my first year. I barely survived. But I chugged along, and I made it to the end. That's an accomplishment. But in that moment, with just a couple of words, he had torn all that apart. All that celebration and that mood, and turned me into just a skin color and just stereotypes. I have no idea who that man is. I've never seen him again. But I just remember being hurt and feeling like, 'How can I not be more than kind of what people see on TV or what people just assume are Black people?' Because I am a human. I was in school, I passed my classes. Things that should be celebrated. But I felt like, in that moment, all that was taken away through his comments. So I remember feeling less than human at that point. But then going back to kind of that base of support I had of Black students who were like, took me in, made me feel better. To be honest, the way we cope is about laughing and just making jokes. So that's how I got through that moment. That's just one situation that I had.
Allan Njomo is a junior studying Business Analytics and Political Science, and was recently elected Student Body President.