Non-athlete Black students show little enthusiasm for U of M Homecoming

Photo by Charles Hallman

Alan Page will be this year’s parade grand marshal  

Retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page is this year’s U of M Homecoming Grand Marshal. The parade is scheduled for Friday, October 5, along University Avenue; Page also will be introduced during the annual game on Saturday.

“It will be something new to me, something I haven’t done before,” Page admitted during an MSR phone interview. The Pro Football Hall of Famer and the state’s first Black high court judge said he has been practicing his wave, a prerequisite skill for parade dignitaries. “It should be a lot of fun,” he added.

Page is not the first Black grand marshal: Archie Givens, Jr. (2015), Clara Adams-Ender (2016), and Bobby Bell (twice chosen, 2001 and 2009) served in the past 25 years, U of M Alumni Association President/CEO Lisa Lewis pointed out. “Choosing Page was pretty easy,” she explained.

“We look for alumni who are real role models and what they have achieved in their careers, and who they are as individuals in terms of giving back to the community. Justice Page has that, and more,” Lewis said.

She briefly explained why Homecoming is important: “Homecoming is a time to bring alumni back and celebrate what they have done, and celebrate what the university has become as part of their legacy.”

This reporter hasn’t yet attended a homecoming game at another longtime Big Ten institution since earning two degrees there decades ago. The predominately White university wasn’t a welcoming place for many of us Black students at the time, and we didn’t go to events like Homecoming as undergraduates or graduates.

My curiosity led me to see if today’s generation of Blacks at the U care about Homecoming and the week-long series of events that began September 29 and will run through October 6. We found a sampling at the Black Student Union (BSU) at Coffman Union who were more than willing to share their thoughts.

“As to Black students and [other] students of color actually going to Homecoming, I would say [no],” Aicha, a senior, said. “I work quite often — I have to pay tuition somehow. We can’t afford to party for a week straight. A lot of us here on financial aid have to work.”

Lina, a sophomore, said, “Black students don’t feel comfortable going to Homecoming events. Homecoming is not a thing for Black students.”

“Here you feel out of place in general at this predominately White institution,” Rosalind, another sophomore, admitted.

Georgina, a second-year psychology student, said Homecoming “is geared toward the White population.”

“I don’t want to put myself in a place where I feel not included or uncomfortable,” said “Monica” (not her real name), a recent transfer student from an HBCU.

We later shared the Black students’ sentiments with former Gopher QB and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy during a recent campus visit. He told a mostly White audience at the stadium’s club room that he had a positive experience at Minnesota (1973-76). When asked if he can recall any negatives during his U years, Dungy said he couldn’t.

“I’m not sure what some of the negatives are” the Black students we talked to are dealing with, Dungy stressed. “I know for me the positives outweigh the negatives because I was looking for the positives.”

Perhaps because Dungy was a Black athlete, Homecoming at the U might have been a different experience, but for the Black non-athletes we talked to, Homecoming is just another thing to avoid.

“Our main motivation is to get good grades and be successful,” Aicha said. “We prioritize when we want to have fun and want to go out. Homecoming is not one of the events we are going to go to, especially since it doesn’t cater to us.”