What’s your type? Don’t be shy because when it comes to dating in college, everyone is in everyone else’s business. As college students, we’re expected to explore our sexuality, date around and possibly find the one. Sounds easy, but as we all know dating is difficult, especially for people of color attending a predominantly white institution (PWI).
At a basic level, it’s well-known that the lived experience of students of color is far different from their white counterparts. NC State proudly touts that underrepresented minorities make up 26.9% of the student population, conveniently forgetting to mention the flip side of the statistic: 73% of students are white. Student testimonies convey similar stories of struggling to assimilate in all-white classrooms and spaces on campus.
“When I first stepped into classes, it was a shock,” said Bomet Beke, a second-year Business administration major. “I asked myself ‘can I relate with these people’ and it was tough.” The unspoken truth is that these experiences are heavily mirrored in the dating scene, leaving many students of color feeling undesired, fetishized and ostracized.
During my freshman year, I attended my first and only white frat party at NC State. Within an hour, my friends and I found ourselves pushed against a fence beside people who were either making out or puking. A drunk girl approached us and said, “there’s so much color over hereeee!” Of course, we looked at her like she was crazy and left, but my experience is one of many and minor in comparison. Over time, I realized the issue isn’t that I’m unattractive. Rather, people of color are often not the preference among the majority, and if we are it’s because we happen to be their “type.”
When I spoke to students of color about their experiences, this feeling was echoed. “Dating at a PWI is extremely hard for people of color, and then even harder for queer people of color. It’s something you have to seek out and it’s not something that happens spontaneously, like in movies,” said Adam Womble, a second-year Civil engineering major. “I now realize that white people grew up feeling validated in themselves. Not having that, I struggled in college with not understanding that like, yeah Adam, you are an attractive person. You need to understand that before dating anybody else. When you do meet people, especially non-Black people, you ask yourself the question ‘are they for my people or am I going to have to worry that all of a sudden’, I’ll catch them saying an out-of-pocket comment.”
Interracial dating is a sticky topic because of the stigmas and expectations placed upon people of color, especially in the Black community. Questions about acceptance from partners and communities arise, leaving many feeling discouraged. Even when students of color seek relationships within their own communities, the on-campus dating pool is nearly nonexistent. According to Adrian Gibbs, a fifth year majoring in science, technology, and society, “outsourcing should be the main objective, unless you don’t care who’s in your business.” Outsourcing, as in visiting other campuses or online dating, is common for students who feel there are little to no options available at NC State.
Many students who venture into interracial dating find it much easier to build connections and relationships. “I’m used to being in white spaces and I feel I have a lot of options. I know a lot of people have a very hard time because they want to date people of their race or ethnicity, but since I have no strong preferences either way it’s nothing for me. Race and all that stuff doesn’t matter, it’s about what’s on the inside,” said Donavan Bullock, a third-year Communication major.
Interracial dating may be a breeze for some, but when it comes to men and women of color, there’s a noticeable contrast, particularly for Black women. Multiple studies have shown that Black women are often the least desired demographic in the dating game alongside Asian men. Osarabo Obasuyi, a second-year Biology and International studies major, says that if women of color are interested in dating outside their race, they have to make it known. “The one thing I realized about white guys is that if they do like you, or if they’re interested in Black girls, they won’t say it outright because a lot of men have a fear of rejection. If you’re a Black girl they don’t know you like them because most people don’t assume that you date outside your race,” said Obasuyi.
While women of color juggle the exhausting task of proving themselves both in love and life, white women at NC State are openly desired by all demographics. The playing field is uneven, and I don’t mean this figuratively because every student I interviewed brought up the well-known Black male athlete-to-white woman pipeline.
“Coming in my freshman year, it was very jarring to see how the Black male athletes decided to separate themselves from community building, and from engaging in the Black community. This is something that I and other Black women I am close with have had trials and tribulations with. In the space of a PWI, we are not considered the prize, we are not considered the preferred demographic to date. A lot of male athletes may have physical relations with Black women, but then they’ll pop out with a white girl, or propose to a white girl on the field. On the opposite end of the spectrum are Black male non-athletes who won’t even give Black women the time of day. It’s confusing to me how you’ve been raised by Black women but your preferred demographic does not look like your mom or your family,” said Adachi Amaram, a third-year Political Science major
Now, what NC State won’t do is reveal how many Black students double as athletes. The sad reality is that Black male athletes are often not checking for Black women. As Womble mentioned, “We laugh at it, we make fun of it, but what’s going on there? Are these real connections you’re choosing because you love that person, or are you choosing them because it benefits you socially?”
We often brush past these topics and joke about them because the reality is hard to face, and even harder to change. As students of color at NC State, our communities are strong and close-knit but we often go the extra mile to build successful romantic relationships. Being labeled as undesirable by the majority, or even people within our own communities, has compounded the challenges of dating at a PWI. We are not a monolith. Our dating interests are diverse and we want to be desired because of who we are, just like everyone else.