By Natalie Jones

In a sold-out presentation at this university’s Hoff Theater Nov. 16, Yvonne Orji urged students to combat hate and promote diversity on their college campuses.

Orji, a Nigerian-American actress, comedienne and writer, along with university student panelists, spoke at Student Entertainment Events’ Hear the Turtle presentation about remaining authentic and being proud in a world where diversity is often watered down.

Orji spoke about her background growing up as a Nigerian, a woman and an immigrant trying to make friends and please her parents.

“I was like ‘Will you be my friend?’” she said, mimicking her Nigerian accent and drawing laughter from the audience. “And then I went home and my parents were like, ‘We did not come here for you to make friends, we came here so you could get an education.’”

Despite her experiences with bullying, Orji still found solace in her identity.

“What it means to be Nigerian is strong, it means we don’t take no for an answer, it means sometimes we’re rude,” she said. “It means there’s a sense of pride.”

Being from Nigeria, Orji also discussed her perspective on being an immigrant in President Trump’s America.

“It means to be a little more vigilant,” she continued. “It means to be on guard and to be a little more aware because the narrative [of immigrants] is [not] being told in the best way.”

Orji also spoke about her role as Molly on “Insecure,” a comedy-drama on HBO, saying her character is who she would be if she wasn’t saved by Christianity when she was 17.

“I’m a hardcore romantic and I think Molly is too … I think Molly is really headstrong and diplomatic, fighting for what she wants.”

Orji also described Molly as a character “able to navigate corporate America and also be a little hood,” she said. “I’m her.”

The second half of the event featured student speakers from various organizations on campus having a conversation with Orji on what it’s like to be a person of color at this university.

Trehana Riley, a senior theater major, said students of color on campus have a sense of responsibility, even if they’re not involved in any leadership positions.

“There’s a certain standard that you have to set, there’s a certain effort you have to put in,” she said. “My mom always says you have to work twice as hard to get where your counterparts are.”

Malik Walters, a senior public health science major, agreed with Riley. He said he feels a similar sense of pressure to be the best.

“My parents both are immigrants from the Caribbean,” he said, sharing a story of his mom’s struggles to get an education while commuting to and from her university. “I feel like I’m privileged to be here … I feel almost ashamed when I get a C on an exam.”

Orji and the student panelists also discussed the expectations students of color have before arriving at this university, which is known to students of color as a predominantly white institution — a school that has previously been segregated and isn’t a historically black college or university.

“When I first got here, it [wasn’t] what I expected college to be,” said Ashley Vasquez, a senior sociology major. “But I’m glad it impacted me the way it did because I wouldn’t be the leader I am today.”

The panelists also familiarized Orji with various incidents occurring on campus including a fraternity email with racial slurs and the stabbing of Second Lt. Richard Collins at the Montgomery Hall bus stop.

“One of the things that impacts this campus is knowing [Sean Urbanski] was a Terp,” said Vasquez referring to  the student charged with allegedly murdering Collins.

“We [the university] created him … they create us, they create activists, they create the next person who’s going to cure cancer, but we also create murderers, and alt-right murderers at that,” she said.

In light of facing the discrimination on predominantly white college campuses, Orji encouraged students of color to be excellent and unite together.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Insecure’s Facebook page.

Natalie Jones if a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at nmjones@terpmail.umd.edu. 

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