Tera Hunter is one of the nation’s leading historians. In her award-winning book, To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War, Hunter reveals how legal restrictions on black marriage during the South’s Antebellum period significantly impacted the black family.

Similar laws were also used to prevent blacks from receiving an adequate education. After years of progress and programs such as affirmative action, black students now have access to the most prestigious universities and colleges in America.

Hunter, who now serves as a professor in the history department at Princeton  University, provides insight on how minority students can achieve success at an Ivy League school. –amir shaw

What were your thoughts about Princeton when you began a career at this institution?

When I was recruited here for a job, I had a different perception of Princeton before visiting. It had a reputation of being one of the conservative Ivy League schools when it came to the integration of women and African Americans. But when I visited the campus, I got a different  perception while talking to faculty. It’s changed for the better in the past several decades. It’s a lot more open to diversity than it once was. Some of the initiatives, like the creation of the Center for African American Studies, peeked my interest. So I came here at a moment when the university was renewing its commitment to African American studies. Having a president like a Shirley Tilghman has set a tone for the university as a whole. Having that leadership at the top has shaped Princeton to make it a place where issues around diversity can be more openly discussed and more vigorously addressed.

It can be difficult for some minority students to adjust to being at an institution like Princeton. What advice do you have for undergrads who come from a disadvantaged background on why they should consider an Ivy League education?  

Undergrads students from disadvantaged backgrounds often don’t consider the possibilities of going to an Ivy League school. However, they should consider it. I would encourage students to visit campuses, if they can, and  talk with current students and faculty members. This would help encourage the idea that going to an Ivy League school is within the realm of possibility.

What advice do you have for minority graduate students?

I would encourage grad students to think about what areas of interests they want to pursue and what institutions will offer them the best place to pursue them. They should also look at the faculty they will work with and programs that are most  committed to fostering a welcoming environment.

How can minority students at Ivy League schools remain confident when times get hard?

There are abundant resources here for all students. Whatever they can imagine, they can create. From the beginning of their careers here, minority students should always see this place as belonging to them as much as to any other students. There will always be people in life who won’t see you in the best light. But that shouldn’t be discouraging. You should come here with the expectations that you belong here and it will enable you to do your best work.

A.R. Shaw

Documenting a culture one story at a time...

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