Socialization Tax: Why Students of Color at UMass Amherst are Paying to Have a Good Time

by Sifa Kasongo

When Deborah Kibazo, now a junior, first came to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she tried to embrace the social life. Like many students, she tried out the fraternity parties. But Kibazo, who is black, said she was often turned away from the doors.

“I was told it was full and as I was walking away just to see them let some non-people of color into the building,” Kibazo said. “My friends and I could tell that it wasn’t full.”

Kibazo added that when speaking with other black students on campus, she realized that she wasn’t alone. Many students of color had felt both unwelcomed and uncomfortable at parties on a campus that is predominantly white. The students of color that had attended said they found little in common with the other partygoers to enjoy the party.

As a result, students of color at UMass have increasingly turned to parties hosted by organizations such as the Mount Holyoke African & Caribbean Students’ Association (MHACASA) and the Black Mass Communication project (BMCP), a decision that has proved hard on their wallets as time goes on.

Photo credits: Black Mass Communications Project   
A fraternity performs at the “Soulfest: BBQ”. 

MHACASA holds several parties on Saturdays throughout the school year at the Chapin Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College. The parties are usually around $5 for a pre-sale ticket, which can be bought online. At the door, the tickets vary but are usually $7 before 11:30 p.m., and $10 after. This doesn’t even include the cost of transportation.

BMCP is known for hosting their annual homecoming party at the Student Union, which costs $15 at the door, and Black Out, held in the Mullins Center, which usually costs $25.

“I didn’t know you had to pay and actually leave campus, which I felt was inconvenient because you’re freezing, you’re in these lines, and you’re just looking for a place to feel safe,” Wentana Ghile, junior, said.

Seeing that students of color go off campus for parties might raise the question of why the Black Student Union (BSU) at UMass doesn’t host any parties on campus to meet the needs of students of color.

BSU traditionally didn’t host many parties because it wasn’t written into their constitution. But given the success of other the other organizations, they didn’t want to compete with the other organizations but instead add to the unity of the students of color on campus.

Michaella Derosena, the president of the BSU at UMass said that when they did try to host parties for students of color, the place they held it at was too large for so few students of color. So they leave it to other student organizations rather than compete with them and supports them by promoting their parties on their social media platforms.

According to the UMass Office of Institutional Research, in 2018, Black/African American students made up 5 percent of the undergraduate student population, Hispanic/Latino, 8 percent, Asian, 12 percent, while White students made up 73 percent.

Source: Race and Ethnicity of Undergraduate Students (US Citizens Reporting)

Naeemah Davis, junior, recalled going to two fraternity parties her freshman year but she never went back again because it wasn’t the kind of vibe she was used to.

“I don’t like the music,” Davis said. “It’s like music that you just hop around to.”

Davis further said that she wanted to hear music from different cultures, such as African and Latinx music because she didn’t hear them at fraternity parties on campus that she attended.

“It’s just too many white people and I don’t feel comfortable,” Davis said. “I feel like I’m not ever going to have as much fun as they do.”  

Athyah Henderson, junior, said that as a black person at fraternity parties, she would be the only person that looked liked her and felt uncomfortable, and this is why she goes to the parties at Mount Holyoke because it’s the kind of environment she is used to.

Stephanie Shonekan, professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, said that black students at UMass are already in predominantly white classes, so they will go the extra mile to avoid experiencing the same things at parties.

“They [Black students] push more for a sense of belonging,” Shonekan said. “If that means traveling a little to go somewhere else to find it, they will.”

She went on to further say that on any predominantly white institution, students of color tend to always feel isolated and search for a community even though white students may seem nice.

Junior Ghile felt the same as Henderson, adding, “no school really has a place for people of color. You kind of just have to make it your own.”

These parties are a great opportunity for students of color across the Five Colleges to come together, enjoy each others company and feel comfortable.

Photo credits: Black Mass Communications Project 
Students of color party together at “Soulfest: Code Black”. 

“It’s nice because this is when we can get together, we know the culture, and we can expect what vibes are going to be there,” Davis said.

Davis, like other students of color, said she didn’t mind the cost of going to several of these parties every month and opening her wallet because she didn’t know any other place where she could be surrounded by a large mass of students of color.

“If I really feel the need to go out, I’ll pay the $10 and I don’t really mind going because at least the bus is free,” Davis said.

The bus may be free but the last one often leaves before the parties end. Students who missed the last bus would need to find an alternative such as someone who came with a car or book an uber ride back to campus, which adds more to the socialization tax.

For Davis and Ghile, the cost ended up being too high for them to frequently attend. House parties aren’t a viable option for them either.

“House parties to me seemed of more like a ‘if that person wanted you to be there, they would let you know’,” Ghile said.  

While there are some house parties held by students of color on campus, Kibazo, Henderson, Davis, and Ghile all realized they had to be in the football players circle to know when and where they were held.

For Henderson, along with many other students of color, sometimes it was just worth the cost to pay for these parties than not go at all.

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