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Oral History Interview with Edith Mayfield Wiggins by Missy Foy


Date: May 8, 1991

Interviewee: Edith Mayfield Wiggins

Biographical abstract: Edith Wiggins was one of the first African American students to enroll at Woman’s College of The University of North Carolina (now UNGC) in 1958.

Interviewer: Missy Foy

Description: This May 8, 1991, oral history interview conducted by Robert Shapard primarily documents Edith Wiggins' recollections of her time at Woman's College (now UNCG), where in 1958 she was one of only five African American students.

Subjects:

Format of original: Oral History

Collection: Centennial Oral History Project

Repository: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Item#: 1.80.1341

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Civil Rights Greensboro and the appropriate repository.



Oral History Interview with Edith Mayfield Wiggins by Missy Foy

[Begin Tape 1 Side A]

Missy Foy:

This is Missy Foy. It’s the eighth of May, 1991, and I’m in the office of Mrs. Edith Mayfield Wiggins on the campus of UNC at Chapel Hill. I guess if you could start with some general information, like where you're from and when you attended UNCG. It was still W.C.—no, it had changed to UNCG by then.

Edith Wiggins:

Oh, no.

MF:

No, it was still W.C.

EW:

I went there in the fall of 1958 and it was still the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina. I had graduated in the spring from William Penn High School, which is an all-black high school in High Point, North Carolina, and I graduated from then Woman's College in the spring of 1962.

MF:

What was your major?

EW:

Psychology.

MF:

Oh, that was my undergraduate major, too. And I suppose you lived on campus?

EW:

I lived in Shaw my freshman year. Shaw Residence Hall was an all-freshman dorm. As a matter of fact, Shaw was at the head of what was called the "quad." And I think there were at least two or three dorms on each side of the quad. They were all freshman dorms. [clears throat]

What was unique about my living arrangements, I was one of five black women that had been admitted that year. And we were the third class of black students admitted to Woman's College. Two years before they had admitted two, JoAnne Smart and Betty Tillman. I don't know if you’re going to track down JoAnne Smart, but Betty Tillman is dead. But JoAnne Smart was one of the—she was in the very first class.

MF:

Her last name is Drane.

EW:

Yes. The second year they had admitted three, Margaret Patterson, Zelma Amy, and Claudette Graves. Claudette was from Greensboro and she remained a town student, but Zelma and Margaret Ann lived on campus. In the third year, five of us were admitted and we were all assigned to Shaw. Two of us had rooms—there were two sets of roommates, and then there was an extra person, so that meant there were three rooms, but no other white students were put on that end of the hall with us. So we had a whole wing of Shaw Dormitory to ourselves, because we were black. The other rooms were completely empty that entire year. As a matter of fact, some of the white students were sleeping three to a room.

MF:

Because they wouldn't move them down there to the empty rooms?

EW:

Right, right. Okay. Our sophomore year we were—we did not have to join the lottery for rooms in the upper classman dorms like the other students. We were assigned our rooms and we were assigned what were called the staff rooms. I don't know how familiar you are with Ragsdale and Mendenhall, but you know, its joined. It's a three-story dorm, and on the end of each floor was a staff room. That was a large room with a private bath, and I guess originally when that building was designed it was designed for staff. I don't know what staff, but the staff would have a larger room plus their own bath.

Well, they decided that that was really where they should put the blacks students, because that way we would not have to share the bathrooms with white students, so—which was fine with us. We loved having our own private baths plus larger rooms. We loved not having to take chances on some of the other less desirable dorms, because Ragsdale and Mendenhall were very desirable. They were at that time, I believe, they might have been the newest on campus in 1959. So we loved that.

That pretty much characterizes what it was like to be a black student at Woman's College between 1958 and 1962. There were no support systems to help the white women adjust and there were none for us. Now what happened, my—let me get it straight now—I believe it was my sophomore or junior year, I was not a freshman, they were, they had some white students tripled in one of the dorms, and they had continued that practice of putting all the black students on one wing and leaving all the other rooms empty.

It was either my sophomore year or my junior year that a group of white women really resented that they had to live tripled while there were empty rooms in their dorms. And they protested that and they said, "We want to move into those rooms. This is silly. This does not make sense. We’re tripled, we're cramped up here on second and third floor, and you've got empty rooms down there." And I think, if I'm not mistaken, if my, my memory is, the administration said, "Okay. You can move down there. We won't assign you those rooms. You bring us something that says it's okay with your parents."

And that's exactly what happened. Those rooms quickly filled up, because the other women, you know, didn't want to be cramped and tripled all year. And once the powers to be could see that black women and white women living on the same floor, sharing the same bathroom—whatever their worst fears were did not come true, that was the last year. That was the last year they continued that practice.

And I think from then on those rooms were assigned, as they should have been all along. Of course, we got to keep, once you got your room as an upper classmen you got to keep it. So we got to keep ours until we graduated, which was just fine with us. We didn't have to go into the lottery.

But you know, that's, to me, that will always be an interesting observation about how they handled the housing once the university decided to admit black students. Just opening the doors and admitting is the first act, but then there’s so many other policies and procedures that have to be looked at in order to make that sort of admission a meaningful one. That did not take place, I'm sure, until many years later.

MF:

The impression I get with some of the things going on campus right now is that there’s still a lack of understanding of the situation that not just black students are in, but international students as well, just a whole lack of understanding of the need for some kind of cultural support. So there’s still a lot more to be done.

EW:

Yes.

MF:

How did other students—the other students didn't seem to really mind, is the impression I get, having black students live on the same hall as them or anything. I'm sure there were a few who—

EW:

I guess there something about an all-female environment that it's not as hostile, it's not as confrontive, as combative. I found the white female students, many who came, I'm sure, with, you know, very negative attitudes—I don't think it’s just a natural female nature to start being hostile, particularly doing life threatening and, you know, those kinds of things. And I think people that had attitudes probably kept them to themselves.

I don't remember having any negative encounters with any white women who were enrolled at that school during my four years there, that it was so major that I even remember it. I'm sure that there were things that happened, but see, when you grow up black in the South there are some things you expect, you know. It's not unusual. So there wasn't anything unusual, nothing unusual happened.

I would say any kind of racial slurs and really negative or derogatory things that happened to me, happened to me off campus. If I was with a group of white students—and you know, when I was there that jacket tradition was real strong. I don't know if they still have it now.

MF:

No. But yeah, it was still really strong.

EW:

Okay. It was very, very strong. You got your jacket your sophomore year. And you know, each class had a different color. And those jackets were notorious all over Greensboro. You know, if you saw someone in one of those jackets you knew they were a student at UNC—at the Woman's College. And so, you know, black students, we wore our jackets like the others, and that identified us as being students. And quite often we would have things said to us from people, but not from our class—not from schoolmates or classmates, but from people in Greensboro. I know we have a lot of problems here at [University of North] Carolina, and Carolina has been—

MF:

Oh sure, I've read about of a lot of that in the paper.

EW:

But you know, I think there’s an interesting observation. Carolina has been desegregated long enough that it's time to have sons and daughters of graduates going off to college, and we're starting to get those young people enrolled here. And I say to administration, "Yeah, things were bad, but when you start seeing sons and daughters come to an institution, that mother or that father must be communicating something worthwhile and positive about going there. Otherwise, those people would not come.”

And I'm saying that as background. My oldest son graduated from UNCG in—three years ago. I guess as far as I'm concerned, that's sort of sums up how I feel about my experience there, even though it was very, very difficult. In retrospect, I'm able to look back and evaluate the quality of the education that I received and separate that from student campus life. It's a much better educational experience where both of those aspects can be positive and in harmony.

And in being in student affairs we like to talk about how the outer classroom experiences enhance and support the academic experience. I would say for the early black students that went to Woman's College, for those of us who graduated—and a few of us did not graduate because of campus life—we graduated in spite of campus life.

MF:

Oh sure, right.

EW:

We were just, we were just, I would say we were just thrown in, and all of the adjustment issues and the campus life issues were never addressed for us or with us. That's okay. You know, I look back on that as we were trailblazers, we were pioneers, and maybe something that we did while we were there, well, thirty years ago, you know, will lead to it being better one day.

MF:

Yeah, I get the feeling, I'm not sure, you know, you can tell me what you think of this—I get the feeling, though, that the adjustment process was never an issue that was dealt with. It just sort of became a moot issue after a certain number of years, but it was never dealt with.

EW:

Right, right.

MF:

And in fact, I get the impression that when it became a coeducational institution, that that made it harder in some respects for minority students, because at about the same time, like, the Neo-Black Society developed, and there was a lot of white resentment against the Neo-Black Society. A lack of understanding, I guess, is a better way to explain it, a lack of understanding of why that was necessary, because that adjustment issue had never been dealt with.

And I'm not sure how active you've remained with the Alumni Association. I know I had spoken with Karen McNeill Miller the other day and she was, at one point, headed up the Black Alumni Association. I don't think she's doing that now, but she was telling me that with that there’s also a lack of understanding of why there needed to be a black alumni association.

EW:

That's real interesting, because as yet I don't, I'm not interested in black alumni associations. I have served for basically a three or four-year term on the alumni board of trustees. I think that's what it was.

EW:

Yeah, that's what it was.

MF:

But I'm really not interested in being an active participant in the Alumni Association, because I really, I don't feel I understand the benefits and the worthwhileness of both, so I don't have anything but—you know, I understand the benefits of an alumni association and a black alumni association. We have them here. I just don't feel led to participate in either one. I guess—it's an interesting phenomena, because, you see, when I was there, like, my first year at Woman's College there were ten black students on that campus, and by the time I graduated, there might have been twenty.

MF:

That's still relatively few.

EW:

Yeas. And I'm not going to say I knew the freshmen and sophomores well, but I knew who they were when I was a senior. I think I knew them by name but we didn't socialize. I was pretty close when I was a senior probably to the students who were juniors, as I had been to ones who had graduated before.

The three, the two classes that graduated before my class—of black students—we were very close. We ate together. We would meet, and we had dinner together every day. JoAnne, Betty, Margaret Ann, and Zelma, and then the four of us out of—I mean, we ate together for dinner, and we were each others' support system. That was our campus life.

Now I had an undergraduate minor—I enjoyed drama and I’d been very active in drama in high school, so I did affiliate with the drama department. I think it was my junior or senior year I was in a play, but I worked on the dramatic productions. And I even was tapped into Masquerade, that's an honorary society for drama majors. And so I was inducted into the Masqueraders. And I really enjoyed that group of students.

And I guess it's because people who are interested in drama are people who, particularly at that time, when students on that campus, you know—at that time, the word was "beatnik." Okay. They were the counterculture people. And they were the people who were more open and accepting to differences. And so I was real comfortable with that group, because they were real comfortable with me.

By the time I was a junior or senior—I have lost track of it exactly—I also served a term on the court of social regulations. That was a group of students that tried other students for violating the campus code. And I got into that, because by the time I was a junior or senior, I was a very good friend of a set of twins that were real active on campus. And this twin was head of that court and she just insisted that I interview and try out for it.

And as it turned out it was quite an interesting experience to serve on that. And that was by the time I was a junior or senior, so those were two non-all black campus life experiences that I had. [pause] My husband graduated from A&T.

MF:

Yeah, that's something I was going to ask you about.

EW:

And—well, my current husband is my second husband. And when we go to A&T's [North Carolina A&T State University] football games in the fall, and you know he sees people that he graduated with, there's just a real closeness. I mean, you can just tell, you know, they really love their school. And I look at that, and they're always running into people, you know, that they were at school with.

And I look at that and I feel sad, because I don't run into Margaret Ann and Zelma and JoAnne and Claudette and, you know, Lillie, Clara—the people who were really special to me, by and large, you know, were those other black students, with a few exceptions. You know, there were a few white students, but it was so few I never run into them. And so I miss that kind of feeling about the school.

MF:

Camaraderie, yeah.

EW:

And so I guess that's why the Alumni Association—I know the current black alumni association they have, I think they have a fairly sizeable membership.

MF:

Yeah, I think so.

EW:

But it's mostly young blacks who graduated a long time after I did.

MF:

Yeah, and it's mostly female. There are very few males.

EW:

And it's almost, you know—nobody who was there 30 years ago, and to be perfectly honest with you that is—those two experiences are completely different, because I can—see, I'm part of an experience at Carolina now, so I know, and I've been on this campus fifteen years or longer. So I know what the black student, the contemporary black student experience is like on these campuses. And it is very unlike what it was thirty years ago. So I really don't identify with the current black alumni association.

MF:

There are a lot more instances of really pretty blatant racism in these days, I think, aren’t there?

EW:

Probably. And here again I think that's because of the co-ed environment.

MF:

Yeah, I agree with you. One thing about A&T that I was going to ask you about is, did you feel any pressure for, "Well, why didn't you go to A&T," or "Why didn't you go to Bennett [College]. Why didn't—" you know—

EW:

Not really. A lot of my classmates went to Bennett.

MF:

Because, see, now some black students who go to UNCG get a lot of that pressure. "Well, why didn't you go to A&T? Why did you go to UNCG?" And so I just wondered if any of that might have occurred with you.

EW:

Again, like I said, the experiences are really quite different. In the late fifties and early sixties, North Carolina and the rest of the country was just starting the civil rights era. Okay. And when I went to UNC—when I went to Woman's College, I went with two other students from my high school in High Point, Jewell Anthony and Patricia Jones. We graduated from William Penn High School together.

And we kind of decided, we knew that they were accepting black students over there at Woman's College, and we said, "Let's apply and see if we get accepted," because I was admitted to Bennett. My father was a Methodist minister, and you know, Bennett is a United Methodist school. My mother finished Bennett, my aunt was the registrar at Bennett. I mean, Bennett College was the school for our family for many reasons, and I was going to Bennett.

We applied to Woman's College first of all to see if we’d get accepted, to see what would happen. Well, lo and behold, we did. Well, that was, that caused quite, quite a stir in our high school and in the community. So then we decided to actually go.

And so it was almost like, not a rejection of black schools to go there, but it was an opportunity to be a trailblazer, and so you had lots of support and encouragement. And so it was like, "Go and represent us, go and do well." It’s an experiment. You know, "Go and see what happens. Go and be a part of that new experience." So there was not that questioning at all. It was like somebody's got to do it. We just felt real lucky that we had graduated together and we knew each other, and we could kind of, were a little group unto ourselves.

So we did not have that. As a matter of fact, my friends at A&T and Bennett were always inviting us to their social events [unclear]. And because UNC Chapel Hill was in the middle of the same new experiment—my first husband was a student here in those early days. He was in the second class of blacks students admitted here. And I think when you interview the black students, the very early, early ones here, because this was a male-dominated environment, the dynamics were completely different from those in an all-female environment. Those were, you know, real interesting days.

And last year—or was it two years ago—several of the black men who were the first here came back to this campus for a weekend to be a part of the campus lives celebration and whatnot. And we spent a lot of time together that weekend. And it's interesting, they don't participate in the alumni stuff here, either. Not the black alumni stuff, and I'm talking about the real early black men that went here.

MF:

It was more an educational experience than a social one.

EW:

Yes, yes.

MF:

When the—in February of 1960 when the A&T students had the sit-ins in downtown Greensboro, how did that affect—

EW:

We participated in the picketing and—but so did several white students, not several—

MF: Three.

EW:

A few white students. [Laughs]

MF:

Yeah.

EW:

Okay. And of course—

MF:

The three from UNC—from W.C.

EW:

Was it only three?

MF:

Yeah. And they wore their jackets.

EW:

Jackets. Yeah, that's what I was going to say. And it was very noticeable. And I remember, I think the Chancellor at that time was [Otis] Singletary. Is that who it was? I believe it was.

MF:

Either that or [Gordon] Blackwell—maybe it was Otis Singletary.

EW:

I believe it was Singletary. I think that's the name on my diploma. But he called this big meeting, this big, you know, campus meeting, and essentially did not want, you know, kind of like said, "Don't do it, it's not safe," and whatnot. I think they continued to do it.

MF:

Well, I think they, they almost got expelled because they had worn their class jackets and—although I think, personally I think there was more to it than that. That was like something that the college administration could hold on to and say, "See, you represented us and not—you shouldn't have done that."

EW:

Yeah.

MF:

And called them on the carpet for wearing their jackets. And that’s why I think [unclear]

EW:

Do you know their names? Do you have their names somewhere? Because one of them, I'm remembering. I can see her face. I know she was from Florida.

MF:

Can't remember any of the names right off the top of my head, but I do know them. I would recognize the names but—I'm sure that anybody in the Alumni Office or anyone in the Alumni Publications Office would know right off the top of their heads. And I believe Dr. [William] Link [history faculty], who I work with, would know, but I just can't recall them right now.

EW:

Have you all interviewed them?

MF: I know at least one has been interviewed. One lives somewhere in the area. And I think the other two live out of state. Somebody who works at the Greensboro Historical Museum did a piece on those three, and she [unclear]. I believe she turned the tapes over to the [University] Archives. I'm not positive, but I hope she did. But with those sit-ins occurring, I'm sure, I'm sure you guys went back to your rooms and were like, "Oh my gosh, [laughs] look what they're doing."

EW:

We were real excited. It was real exciting. For them, for black people in general. We were supportive.

MF:

I got the feeling with the three white students from UNC—from W.C. who had participated in that, that there really was sort of an attitude of acceptance of that among most of the students on the campus of W.C. There didn't seem to be any real opposition that I can see [unclear]. Almost that this attitude, that, "Well, it's about time."

EW:

Yeah, you know, I have to admit, you know, in 1958, when I went to Woman's College—you know, North Carolina is very southern. Now at that particular time, Woman's College, gosh, I [unclear] percentages were at that time, but there were a lot of out-of-state white students from the Northeast. It had a large out-of-state Jewish population.

And the reason I remembered that, growing up in a black community I had no contact with the Jewish community other than on certain days during the week several stores would be closed in town. And you know, my parents always said, "Well, these store are owned by Jewish people, and this is one of their holidays," so the stores closed, shoe stores, dress stores. So that's about all I knew about being Jewish, growing up black, was that the only thing Jewish that impacted my life was sometimes I was downtown shopping and a store I wanted to go in was closed.

I got to Woman's College and realized some of the students that actually initiated really meaningful relationships with us, or friendships, were Jewish students from the Northeast. They were—it was not, I guess, an out-of-their ordinary experience for them to be in school with black people and to associate with black people.

Some of the [unclear], but again not doing anything, you know, hostile or keeping a distance. But there were so many of the others who were actually trying to initiate meaningful relationships that the others kind of were insignificant. And it stands out in my mind, because again, periodically those students would be away from the campus because of holidays. There were quite a few.

MF:

Yeah, I think there were a lot of girls from New Jersey in particular. There still are. There a lot of students from New Jersey in all of North Carolina's public universities. I think, it's—I know this because I'm from New Jersey. [laughs] It's so expensive to attend school, but it’s cheaper to attend school as an out-of-state student in North Carolina, much, much cheaper, than to attend school as an in-state student in New Jersey. And that same thing would—it's just unreasonable. How did the faculty react to—

EW:

I remember only one woman who, if there was a faculty person that treated any one of my sons the way she treated me, I would be insisting that the university fire her or suing the University for blatant racism. And she was an English teacher, but she's the only one that I can remember. The others sort of run together as [pause] there. The only faculty that I had a long term, halfway decent relationship with was the psychology faculty, because as a junior and senior that's where I, you know, had most of my class work. And so over time—the chairman of the department at that time was Kendon Smith.

MF:

Oh yeah. I remember him.

EW:

He was, I remember him as being supportive, so much so that when I went back, I think, on one occasion, I looked him up and wanted to see him.

Let me talk about a group of women that provided a good deal of support, that helped me in—I can personally testify to how they helped me and I observed them doing the same to others, the other black students that lived in the dorms. And those were the maids, Annie and Victoria. Annie Reeves was the first floor maid in Shaw, and Victoria Johnson was the second and third floor maid in Shaw. And I tell you, I loved those women. They were my mothers, they were my surrogate mothers. We did more crying on their shoulders about everything—not just [telephone buzzer]

[Tape paused]

EW:

We interacted with them every day. On weekends they would pick us up and take us—Annie in particular—would take us to her house and to church. They were just—you know, looking back over it, I should have started with them [laughs] in terms of support systems. And for years when I went back to that campus, I'd go back to Shaw and look for them. Those were the only people I'd look for.

And I would go to that dorm and they wouldn't there, and I would ask, you know, the current maids, I'd say, "Do you know Annie Reeves?" And they’d say "Oh yeah, she's in such in such a dorm." And then I'd go find her. Same thing about Victoria. I have no idea where they are now. But I even went back once with my two boys when they were little so Annie could see my children.

MF:

Did they realize how important they were to you?

EW:

I think so, I think so.

MF:

I guess they felt almost an instinct to take care of you. And I'm sure that they could, having worked there, they could probably understand how you felt, better than anybody else.

EW:

I suppose so, but yeah, they were absolutely wonderful.

MF:

That's interesting. I wonder if either them are still around.

EW:

I don't know. I know the last time I looked them up—it had to be fifteen years ago, but I'm pretty sure for about the first, about the first ten or twelve years, I was out at least once a year. I went—because, you know, I was here in Chapel Hill and my parents were in Winston-Salem, so I was always going through Greensboro. Of course Greensboro is my mother's home, too, so I was in Greensboro a lot. And that's who I would stop to see.

MF:

That's great that there was somebody like that. Yeah. I'll have to—I'm definitely going to look and see if I can find them.

EW:

They worked for housing, you know, housekeeping. They were housekeepers in housing or maids in—at that time, they probably had it all organized in a different way, but at that time they worked for housing, because I know every day the maids would check in the housing department down in a kind of basement area. That's where they would check in and check out. Annie Reeves and Victoria Johnson.

MF:

One thing before I forget also, that I wanted to go back and ask you was, you had said that there was some, only one faculty member that, you know, you really had a bad experience with. And I was just wondering what kinds of a—well, just generally, sort of, what kinds of things happened?

EW:

Attitude, tone of voice, mannerisms. And you know, if I deserve a bad grade, you know, I want a bad grade. But I think there's also a responsibility to talk to the student about why it was a bad grade and what's needed to get better grades. It's just a complete, I think, resentment.

MF:

Sort of a condescending attitude.

EW:

No, no, worse than that, just downright hostile, just a complete resentment that there were black students going there. And all of her actions and attitudes to me demonstrated that. I was not—I did not get good grades. I was capable of getting good grades. And here again, this is what I mean about how a lot of us that got through there, initially got through there, graduated on time, in spite of the institution.

When I left there I came to graduate school here, and fortunately my self-esteem in terms of academics was not totally destroyed by that academic experience there. And I blossomed here in graduate school.

So you know—and I guess I happened to have been in a graduate program where people were generally supportive people. Anyway, I got a master’s in social work here. So there was lots of time spent with every student for all kinds of reasons.

So I don't really have a lot of strong memories and feelings about the faculty. I guess between 1958 and 1962, as black students, we went there and we felt like all of the responsibility was ours to do well. I think contemporary black students feel, and rightly so, the institution has a responsibility, not just for them but for all students, in saying that their experience is a wholesome, a whole one that totally, one that fits together for all students. And I'm in the business. I'm in student affairs. And you know, we feel some responsibility.

MF:

Yeah. Well, also I think something that Karen McNeil Miller had pointed out the other day, which I thought was a very good observation, she was telling me, she said, "You can't take somebody who’s not being given the same educational opportunities all along and then stick them in a college and say, 'Okay, now everything’s fair game. You have to sink or swim just like everybody else.'" If they had had the same educational opportunities, that would have been a different story. But the majority of the black students who attended school in the South, when they get to college they have not had the same educational opportunities.

EW:

True.

MF:

I thought that was a really good observation. And I think, I see it when I talk to administration now at UNCG, is they don't understand that. That's just right over their head. [laughs] They don't understand where the problem is, why anybody would need any kind of special assistance. It's like, "Well, you're in college now."

I wonder if that’s some of what some black students were saying here at UNC Chapel Hill. I know there's been a lot in the local Chapel Hill paper, the Chapel Hill Herald, lately about a real disappointment with the whole UNC system as far as trying to fulfill the needs of any minority population. There are black students, Indian students, several different minority populations that are really becoming rather vocal lately.

EW:

Well, this new concept of multicultural relations is alive on this campus as well as other campuses. It isn't just enough to open the doors and admit people with different cultures if the dominant culture is going to prevail, because those cultures from time to time are going to come into conflict. And so what institutions have to do now is look at their policies and regulations that make perfect, good sense if you are of one culture, and look at those practices and policies and whatnot and see if they accommodate all cultures.

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

MF:

I think that's, that’s part of the problem that I've heard from students, some black students, who have gone to UNCG, for example, recently is that it's fine to be a black student there as long as you don't act black. You know, if you don't want to be black, if you want to try to act white or adopt white culture, then that's fine, you fit in just fine. But if you don't want to do that, then that's where some problems begin.

EW:

Well, I'm real suspicious when I hear, you know, blacks talk that way. My oldest son is twenty-six. He just finished UNCG about three years ago. My youngest son is twenty-three. He graduated from Carolina last year. They're both in graduate school this year. The youngest is finishing his first year of law school at Duke, and the oldest one is finishing his first year in an MBA program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Academics has always been important in our home. That's the number one priority. Student life is really not the number one priority when you go off to college. It certainly should be supportive, and it should be good and positive, but that's not the number one reason to go off to school. To get white people to accept your culture is not the number one reason you go to here or UNCG or any place else. My son who finished UNC Greensboro last fall—[telephone buzzer] is that that buzzer?

MF:

I think so.

EW:

—graduated an honor student, with honors.

MF:

Sure.

EW:

Excuse me.

[Tape paused]

EW:

I guess the reason I feel so strongly about this is that I hear students here saying the same things. First thing I want to know is, how are your grades. Okay. If the student has the ability, the potential to get accepted either here or at UNCG, then they have the ability to do good work academically, because they got accepted. Particularly I know that's true of Carolina. Carolina is highly selective, and I think so is UNCG, maybe not highly so.

MF:

But they are becoming more selective.

EW:

Okay. So that tells me right there you have the ability to do the work. I know there's a high percentage of black students at [UNC]G and here that aren't doing well academically. That's because they aren't doing well academically. Okay. So then it's very easy to talk about the, what the institution isn't doing—that I will listen to you all day and all night talk about what the institution is not doing, after you show me that you have done your part. Okay. If you can sit here with a B average and talk about, you know, all this other stuff, fine. I'm with you a 100 percent.

But don't let me see you going to all the step shows, all the parties, sitting on the walls, going, you know—don't do that all the time, don't spend all your time with the fraternity, then make a D on the exam and then talk about how prejudiced the environment is. You can't fool me. And I think, you know, you can't fool me with that. I'm just not—so be real careful, be real careful. I listen to people say that. Before I get all caught up in it, I want to know if they met the institution halfway.

MF: Oh sure. I know what you’re saying, I follow what you're saying exactly. Yeah, so that it's a, it's a legitimate complaint rather than just a—

EW:

Because then I can really separate. Then I can say, hmm, then it really is that professor. Hmm, something is wrong with that professor. You know, yeah, we've got to look into this. This is serious, but not if you haven't studied. Not if you tried to write your paper the night before and get a D on it. Then no, that's not the professor.

MF:

Yeah. I suppose with black students attending UNC now or UNCG, I suppose it's—well, it's not just black students, Indian students, I see it more so with the international students than any other group, that if something doesn't go well, then there has to be a reason why it's not their fault. I would say with some international students, I see that more than any other group.

EW:

Now that could very well be exactly the case with international students. I would not equate. We don't really have the same dynamics and adjustment issues.

MF:

Yeah. I'm just saying that I've seen that more frequently with the students from other countries than I have with any other group of students.

EW:

Yeah. Then they might be completely legitimate issues to address. You know, as much as we talk about black culture, white culture and what not, we do share a lot of the same culture. So this is not a completely alien environment, where for most foreign students it is quite alien. I think we have to look at it on a continuum scale, because I observe peers and some issues that I think are really quite legitimate.

MF:

Oh sure, I know that the example that was given to me by Cheri Callahan at UNCG—she’s vice chancellor in student affairs, and she had said that there was a student, I can't remember where she said he was from, but that his first complaint was that he didn't have a personal maid when he got here. And then he could not get use to having female instructors. And so there was just a really—he just had really hard time.

And she was the one he needed to—because at time she was working with the international students, and she was the one he needed to come to for a problem and he even had trouble with that [laughs], because there was quite a different male/female role. I can't remember where she said he's from, But anyway, I don't want to have skipped over anything. If there's anything else that you —

EW:

No. I really don't. I could go on, you know, for a long, long time, because you know when you start talking about one thing it sort of—

MF:

Leads to another.

EW:

—leads to another, and it stimulates your memory, you know and so its, its—I really, you know, do have an eleven o'clock later.

MF:

Okay.

EW:

It's not that I've run out of something to talk about. [laughs]

MF:

That's fine.

EW:

But then again, you can't sit there all day and listen to me relive that experience.

MF:

I think it's very interesting.

EW:

It is.

MF:

It's closely related to what I've done my thesis on, so. Well, thank you very much.

EW:

You're certainly welcome.

[End of Interview]