During the 2008-2009 school year, I got accepted to finish my undergraduate studies at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB, Long Beach, CA) and pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, and a Minor in Africana Studies. I was going through a transitional period in my life because it was the first time I moved out of my Parents’ house and began my journey of becoming independent.
My first year at CSULB was a complete disaster because I was put on academic probation after my first two semesters. If I had another bad semester, the university would be forced to kick me out of school for a semester, which was three months and I would have to re-apply all over again.
I decided to take four classes my first semester because just about every student I came across were taking at least 12 units or more. At the time, I felt I was smart enough to take 12 units a semester like everybody else because CSULB chose me to attend their university.
During my first semester, I experienced racism and was stereotyped like some young black men trying to find their purpose in the life. I had a journalism class on Monday’s and Wednesday’s, and the class was an hour long, which made it difficult for me to concentrate because my prosthetic leg gets very uncomfortable and painful when I’m in it for a while.
My Professor would sometimes cancel classes on Wednesday, and tell his students to turn in their homework at his personal office by sliding the homework under his door. The problem is my prosthetic leg doesn’t allow me to bend down that low. So, after class, I asked my Professor if there was another way I could turn in my homework because I’m physically disabled with a prosthetic leg and can’t bend down that low. Of course, he said it wasn’t a problem, and I could turn my homework in at the journalism office.
I was only a month into classes, and I remember one particular Wednesday at CSULB so vividly, and I’ll never forget how low I felt. When I walked into the journalism office, I told the secretary that I’m a student of this professor and he said I could drop off my homework here. The secretary said, “How come you can’t slide your homework under his door like everybody else? Are you on the basketball team or something?”
When she said that, it hurt me to my core because it was so unexpected. After she said that, I starred at her for a long three to six seconds and said, “I’m a cancer survivor, I had to get my right leg amputated, and now I’m a hip amputee. I have a prosthetic leg, and I can’t bend down that low.” I also said, “I have already spoken to the professor, and he said it wouldn’t be a problem if I turn in my homework here.”
The reflected look I got back from the secretary was embarrassment and shame. Her face turned red, and she couldn’t even look me in the eye. She put her head down and reached her hand out to take my homework. After she took my homework, I left and slammed to door behind me. I couldn’t believe what had just happened to me. I only been at the university for a month before this incident, and thought to myself “Is this how it’s going to be while I’m here trying to get an education?”
The secretary made me feel less than human because of circumstances I had no control over and stereotyped me as another young black male that is portrayed by the media and our society. I believe she was more concerned about my athletic ability, rather than my mental ability in the classroom. As you could tell, my first semester at CSULB was a horrible experience, and my report card reflected that. For instance, my report card was as follows: F, F, D, and C. After my report card, I was automatically put on academic probation.
My second semester wasn’t that much better, but it progressed. I found out about Disabled Student Services (DSS) at CSULB, and they focus on helping disabled students succeed in the college environment. They said it would be best for me to just take two classes because I would have a better chance of performing well.
My report card for the second semester was as follows: B and C, but it wasn’t enough because I was still on academic probation. If I had another bad semester, the university would be forced to kick me out of school for a semester, and I’d have to re-apply all over again.
This was a really depressing time for me because I knew there was going to be a dark cloud constantly following me for the next three years, and I felt that I was struggling to stay afloat. I also questioned if CSULB made the right decision by accepting me to attend their university.