“You are going to get rooms that you do not like. They will not be, perhaps, as attractive as your desire, or they will be too crowded. You are going to be given persons for roommates with whom you think it is going to be impossible to get along pleasantly, people who are not congenial to you. During the hot months your rooms are going to be too hot, and during the cold months they are going to be too cold. You are going to meet with all these difficulties in your rooms. Make up your mind that you are going to conquer them. I have often said that the students who in the early years of this school had such hard times with their rooms have succeeded grandly. Many of you now live in palaces, compared to the rooms, which those students had. I am sure that the students who attend this school find that the institution is better fitted every year to take care of them than it was the year previous.” “A Sunday Evening Talk: Some Rocks Ahead,” Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
Among the many priorities Mr. Washington had in relationship to his duties as president of Tuskegee Institute (University), fostering a relationship with his students was high among these. The Sunday evening talks were designed for students to engage the founding principal and president in less formal ways than at official gatherings such as convocations, commencements and formal student body association meetings. Moreover, he used these times to try to instill in them something of the “Tuskegee spirit.” Yet, try as one might-and in spite of the many positive aspects of the institution that are hardly ever touted-there are always areas of on-going concern for students, or “some…rocks ahead” for students within a university living-learning environment. Here, Mr. Washington addresses one of these: residential living. To be sure, this address was for Tuskegee Institute (University) students in the 19th century as opposed to the 21st century. (And it is clear that the 21st century institution has a fiscal duty to ensure the best facilities available to its students.) Notwithstanding, there are simply some matters in residential living that are common to all persons living within a university environment that are entirely unavoidable, and a student must simply “conquer them.” First, the room may not be as “attractive as you desire.” The living-learning environment is by no means the culmination of one’s career. It is a stop en route to a glorious career path that has as its ultimate destination a home purchase consistent with one’s desires and affordability. (This is often dependent upon your academic success as a student.) Second, “roommates” may not be “congenial.” Everyone recalls meeting strangers for the first time and though the initial meeting was uncomfortable, these strangers became life-long friends. (Many of our best, life-long friends are cultivated in the college and university living-learning environment, and had we not endured, we would have missed a valuable relationship that might be instrumental in our future successes.) Third, heating and air challenges are often the case even with respect to one roommate preferring it cold while the other hot. (Universities do their very best to address these situations upon proper reporting to the designated resident advisor, residential hall director, facilities director and Vice President for Student Affairs. It is not the university president who one contacts for these matters until the lines of authority are exhausted.) Lastly, a balanced perspective recognizes that “many of you now live in palaces, compared to the rooms which [previous generations of] students had” and for most universities, “the students who attend this school find that the institution is better fitted every year to take care of them than it was the year previous.” While the “struggle” of residential living within a university environment is oft-times a real and verifiable one, students would do well to remember the following adage: “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” And the goal is the successful completion of a baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree-preferably a Tuskegee University baccalaureate or post-baccalaureate degree.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.