Obama inspires many — but not all — students of color at Christian colleges

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goshen college

Catherine Guiles/Medill

From left, Jeremy Pope, Lydie Assefa and Seth Grimes are students at Goshen College in Indiana and Obama supporters.

by Catherine Guiles
Nov 03, 2008

Like their peers at secular universities, many students and staff members at Christian colleges are excited about the possibility of Democrat Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president.

“Students of color are excited that there’s a candidate who looks like them” and had a quality education, said Hierald Kane-Osorto, associate director of multicultural programs at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. “I’ve had a lot of white students who are encouraged by Obama” and his “message of hope.”

Several students said they plan to vote for Obama, but his race is only one factor.

“Initially, my interest in [Obama] had to be with him being an African-American, but that’s not the main reason I’m voting for him,” said Seth Grimes, 20, a sophomore at Goshen College in Indiana.

Grimes’ father is African-American, and his mother is white. Generally, Grimes said he likes Obama’s policies better than those of Republican John McCain.

Latosha Peters, 20, a junior at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, agreed.

“It’s not just because [Obama is] black,” said Peters, whose father is African-American and mother is Filipina. “I feel like he’s the one who’s going to bring more change. He’s for the poor people in America. He’s for people getting education.”

Lydie Assefa, 22, a senior at Goshen, praised Obama’s foreign policy stance.

“Pushing diplomacy is a little more refreshing, that we’re not going to rush into something,” said Assefa, the daughter of an Ethiopian father and white mother. “There will be attempts to pursue things before war or aggression takes place.”

Other African-American students praised what Obama represents.

Goshen sophomore Jeremy Pope said Obama helps shatter stereotypes.

“A lot of people just think black people are good for nothing” but sports and entertainment, Pope, 19, said.

Don Thomas, a senior at North Park University in Chicago, wears an Obama button and “did some minimal canvassing” for the campaign.

“He’s bringing some life back to politics” and “seems to be someone I can relate to in regards to his take on the community,” Thomas, 27, said. He likes “to see someone with the talent that he has and the sincerity he possesses.”

But Kimberly Nissly, a senior at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, was less enthusiastic.

“I don’t look at Obama as a black man” since he hasn’t had “the same plight” as others, Nissly, 21, said. She also disagreed with him on abortion, among other things.

However, Nissly noted, “I’m not the typical African-American on this campus.” Born in Washington, D.C., she was adopted and raised by a white couple in Pennsylvania.

At George Fox University in Oregon, sophomore Courtney Greenidge said she plans to vote for McCain, in large part because of his opposition to abortion.

“I would be very excited” to have a black president, said Greenidge, the daughter of an African-American father and white mother. “I think it’s time that we do, but I don’t think [Obama is] the right one. Some of his things don’t line up with my personal views on the Bible.”

Still, “I don’t think I would be terribly upset” if Obama won, she said. “If they’re the person in charge, that doesn’t mean I can’t support them.”

Greenidge, 19, noted that electing Republican Sarah Palin as the U.S.’s first female vice president would also be meaningful.

Peters and Grimes both said abortion was a concern but not their main one in this election.

“I don’t feel it’s as big an issue as, say, the economy or the war in Iraq,” Grimes said. It’s “on the lower rungs.”

Regardless of the election results, Anthony Holness, 21, a senior at Eastern, said work still needs to be done to fight prejudice.

“I think racism is still very apparent,” said Holness, who is African-American and supports Obama. “Having a black man as president won’t solve racism.”

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Catherine Guiles/Medill

Anthony Holness and Latosha Peters are students at Eastern University in Pennsylvania. Both plan to vote for Barack Obama.

©2001 – 2013 Medill Reports – Chicago, Northwestern University. A publication of the Medill School.