For this semester, I am a student at University of the Western Cape (UWC), which is also known as the “University of the Left.” In 1986, the institution earned this name after students and administration fought to admit Black African students because UWC was originally established as a Coloured university in 1959. Under the apartheid system, if you were Coloured, you would attend UWC. Now the university is composed mostly of Black African and Coloured students, making my experience at UWC starkly different from my time at Georgetown University. Here in South Africa, Black African and Coloured are two different racial categories, which were established under the apartheid government. In the states, both racial groups would be categorized as Black or Racially Ambiguous.
My favorite module (another term for a course) is Anthropology 312: Social Identity. The lecturer is Zulfa Abrahams, who attended UWC during the student protests against the apartheid government to change the legislation to give Black African students admittance. During a class debate, in which she urged students to open up their minds in order to learn, she drops “When I attended UWC, Coloured students, my classmates, died right next to me… the White Apartheid government shot them down… People died for YOU to sit here.” The class was completely silent as we attempted to process what was just said. Before returning to the lecture, she adds, “UWC is an icon in the struggle of educating Blacks…We are a university that understands the struggle.”
I have heard nothing like this at Georgetown University, a privileged institution, founded in old money. As the lecture continued, I thought Where would I be, in all of my Americaness and all of my Blackness if students did not die for me to be here at UWC? But part of me knew that she was addressing the Black African students in the class who were sitting amongst the Coloured students. I often have moments like this when I am an outsider due to my African American identity, but that’s to be expected as it is part of the study abroad experience.