My Black Panther freshman college roommate

Alan Ritter,
St. Louis, MO

When I arrived at MIT, my assigned roommate was an African American guy from Detroit. In the fall of 1969, at the height of the Black Power movement and an aggressive affirmative action program, we could hardly have been more different. I was white, middle-class, out of a prep school in St. Louis. My mom was a teacher, my dad an electrical engineer. My class at Country Day was the first to have an African American graduate. I was ready to accept Dave as a friend but we shared few words through freshman year and I believe he dropped out after that year. I wonder how many of those young men and women from disadvantaged urban schools managed to catch up and graduate from MIT? In the intervening decades, I’ve been privileged to travel the world and meet people of many races and ethnicities. We have dragged our son (now 32) along with us to many of those places and I hope he has grown up with a broader view of humanity than I did. I look back a couple of generations in my own family and see huge differences in how we perceived people of other races. Progress is possible but not always easy.


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