In high school, I was one of four Black students in my grade. There wasn’t much of a black unity between us; the school was so small, and everyone knew everyone so well that affiliations or demographic characteristics were made secondary and subsumed into our individual personhood. The result was that there was no notion of us as the “Black students” in any tangible sense, no Black Student Union or brunch club, but the idea of Blackness stayed with all of us and weighed heavily on me. Being one of the only Generational African Americans in the school and often the only Black voice in given spaces, the responsibility of representing blackness in an academic space often fell squarely on my shoulders, with no organization or community to fall back on.

In part, this forced upon me complete ownership over the idea of Blackness. I was the only representation of Blackness in many classrooms, clubs, and social spaces. I walked around with this idea that everything I did, anything I said would reflect and inform people’s perception of academic blackness and that I had sole custody of this obligation.

I don’t experience this dynamic at Yale. There are 1,017 Black students. There are student groups for Caribbean Students, African Students, a Black Men’s Union, and a Black Women’s Coalition. I live no more than 2 minutes from more Generational African Americans than there were in my entire senior class, and now there is a Generational African American Students Association. The physical representation of this is the House: A 9,000-square-foot cathedral for the diaspora, a hub for Black students of all stripes, larger than my entire high school. As a result of my isolated adolescence, I never scrutinized my expression of and relationship to Blackness in academic spaces. 

I am a Black man. But being “Black” has a social (and somewhat political) collective element to it, but back then, I never asked if my contributions were enough or in line with the rest of the Black community because there wasn’t much of a community. But high school wasn’t a period of blissful ignorance, either. Blackness was subsumed into who I was back then at school, there was an obligation to be on my best behavior. I was constantly thinking about how I carried myself and everything I did. The positions I would take on issues like affirmative action, and my reaction to specific news stories. I believed every action I took would heavily inform others’ perception of Blackness as often the only Black person present, whether it was true or not. 

But those fears and anxieties were eased when I met Black Yale. Blackness here is a shared project. I am not the only representation; I am not a de facto monolith. I feel free to be me, with Blackness as a part of me that others perceive alongside hundreds of other Black students. Here, I am relieved of the responsibility of being the sole generational representation in an academic setting and carry a new obligation to contribute as a member of a collective. There’s a new duty that I owe to my fellow Black students to do good work, engage with my community, attend events and excel.

This jump from primary custody of academic Blackness to being a member of a collective project is scary. I’ve never said this out loud, but the House scares me precisely because its awe inspiring beauty reminds me of this obligation. It’s the manifestation of our community’s long history and staying presence on this campus. It’s a monument to the fact that this part of my identity is now shared with others and a living testament to the amazing work others are doing. The anxiety of being alone has been replaced by the fear of not doing enough. 

Conquering this fear will be a central project during my time at Yale, and I know it will be worth it because it’s better to be shoulder to shoulder and have someone you are afraid of disappointing than to work alone. It’s better to work on a group project with people you want to impress than to present it yourself. It’s better to share responsibility than to carry the weight on just your shoulders. And here at Yale, with my fellow Black Yalies, it is, indeed, a happy burden. 

MILES KIRKPATRICK is a first-year in Saybrook College. Contact him at