FIU Blue Table Talk Discusses the Lives of Black Students in Higher Education

FIU students, alumni and faculty members discussed race, education and the need to support one another at a Blue Table Talk panel discussion. Photo courtesy of Abdulwahab Almaatouq

Guido Gonzalez/Staff Writer

Students, alumni and faculty members sat around a blue table for an intimate and interpersonal discussion on race, education and the need to support one another.

The second Blue Table Talk was hosted at the Biscayne Bay Campus on Feb. 12, focusing on the topics of being black in higher education and the nature of progression culture.

Vice President of the BBC Student Government Council Mahalia Balfour organized this event for Black History Month to encourage people of color to open up about their experiences in FIU.

“Due to this being Black History Month and FIU being such a diverse place, I really wanted to open up important platforms for conversations,” said Balfour.

The presiding panelists were Michael Hepburn, an FIU alumni who is currently a success coach in the Student Access and Success Department, Doreen Jean-Jacques, a senior majoring in psychology, and Balfour.

“Mahalia approached me with the opportunity to speak on the panel,” Jean-Jacques said. “I’m happy to be involved and just discuss those different conversations.”

The conversations often involved the best and worst situations students of color have in FIU, both then and now. One of Jean-Jacques best experiences was discovering a large Haitian community on BBC.

“To see not only black students but also a strong Haitian culture, a sense of unity, everyone really knows each other and I like that,” said Jean-Jacques.

On the flip side, Jean-Jacques’s worst experiences are the language barriers she often encounters with other students, given that FIU’s consistently largest race/ethnicity demographics are Hispanics. 

“Sometimes I have a group project and there would be students that didn’t speak English or preferred to speak Spanish,” Jean-Jacques said. “I know it’s uncomfortable and I feel like I’m inconveniencing them.”

The manager of Human Resources, Ellen Williams, was also one of the first to speak up about her experiences in college.

“The decision about where to go to school at that time was really just [historically black colleges] or go to a school where the majority was white,” Williams said, “It was a black and white world.”

Williams attended Emerson University in Boston during the late 1970s and early 1980s to pursue her interests in creativity and communication. 

“My father was Jamaican or a ‘Jamerican,’ and we’d always have these conversations going back and forth about how in Jamaica, you were just Jamaican,” Williams said. “But in the United States, we had to be black.”

Williams experienced being both accepted by the black community in Emerson College, while also receiving harsh reminders about where she was in Boston.

“In the summertime, I got a part-time job in a radio station, and we were looking for an apartment in South Boston and we took the orange line to the neighborhood,” said Williams. “We were quickly reminded where we were, and that was my first experience with racism over there.”

Thankfully progress has been made, but that does not mean the students of color and their efforts to achieve a successful career from college is easy. That is where developing relationships with others is important.

“The majority of your time as far as achieving your dreams, building your family, doing what you love, is gonna have to involve someone else,” Hepburn said. “Cultivating relationships is key. College is your safe haven and this is one of the best times to have that.”

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