On a campus of more than 29,000 students, it is easy for many to blend into the canvas of Colorado State University-unless the individual is the one color on the painting unlike the rest.
According to CSU's Office of Budgets and Institutional Analysis web site, www.colostate.edu/Depts/OBIA/, blacks make up 2 percent of the undergraduates at CSU, compared to the 83 percent majority population – Caucasian.
Among the 385 black students currently enrolled at CSU, there are many varied viewpoints related to the experience of being such a distinct minority.
Will Wooten and Charlie Jones-two black freshmen with little in common beyond their skin color-have each lived a year as the color unlike all others at CSU. Between the two, they comprise a wide range of opinions and experiences, providing two different pictures of what it is like to be black on a predominantly white campus.
Both Jones and Wooten have been involved in the makeup of CSU since the beginning of the school year. Jones began his life at CSU weeks before the rest of the student body, leaving his home in Katy, Texas, on a scholarship for basketball; Wooten, who hails from Colorado Springs, Colo., became involved in campus life early as the president of Black Definition, a student organization.
Each realized very quickly they were on a predominantly white campus.
"I looked around at my first basketball game, and I just was like, 'Wow. There are a bunch of white people here,' and not many of us," Jones said.
Walking through campus on the first few days of school drew Wooten to a similar realization.
"I walked to class, then to the student center, then back to class," Wooten said. "I noticed pretty quickly, there are a lot of white people, and very few black people."
Academically, Jones spends his time pursuing a sociology degree and Wooten is working toward a business degree. Their different experiences in the classroom begin to tell their respective stories of what it means to be black at CSU.
"In most of my classes, I am either the only black person, or one of two," Jones said. "It's not something that really affects me, though. Sure, I am the only black person, but I have never felt isolated because of it, or singled out because of it."
Wooten, also, has walked into classes as one of the only black students. In the majority of his classes, Wooten is in fact the sole representative of the black community, and he is reminded of that fact frequently.
"I feel like I have to be the face of the African-American community," Wooten said. "I am looked at to answer almost every question having to do with being African-American. When we discussed slavery in my history class, I had to answer a ton of questions, just because of my skin color."
The attitudes both have encountered inside and outside of the classroom also paint unique pictures of the black experience at CSU.
Jones has felt singled out during his first year as a Ram, not necessarily because of his skin color, but because of the clothing he often wears to class.
"I really have felt a lot more isolated as an athlete then I have as a African-American man," said Jones, who plans to transfer to a junior college next year to pursue his basketball career in a new location. "Really, my being an athlete has caused me to be profiled more, and focused on more, than the color of my skin has."
The issue of athletics has played a role in both Jones' and Wooten's experiences at CSU.
"People always assume I must be an athlete," Wooten said. "It's always, 'Do you play football or basketball?' The idea that I could simply be a student who is black seems to elude most people."
The stereotype Wooten has experienced is a common one, said Jason Smith, a white member of the CSU basketball team.
"I think it would be tough to be black and not be an athlete here at CSU, at any school," said Smith, who has spent the majority of his freshmen year training and living with black teammates. "It seems like every black person has to be an athlete stereotypically, and if they aren't, they still will be treated like they are one by a lot of students. I think that would have to be tough to feel like people are judging you on something you aren't."
Beyond dealing with stereotypes, Wooten and Jones have had different experiences dealing with the emotions associated with being a minority.
"It can be really, really lonely at times," said Wooten, who went to a high school with a fairly high black to Caucasian ratio. "It is a real culture shock, especially if you are from a region where there are more black people. If you are from a place like that, the adjustment can be a very tough one."
Loneliness has not been an emotion Jones has felt throughout his year of school.
"I certainly haven't felt like I don't have friends, or that the ones I do have look at me like as a black guy first, and a nice guy second," Jones said. "In my (residence) hall, we have all gotten really close and we even joke about race – both ways. If you just take people for who they are, not the color of their skin, then it will be a lot easier to feel like you fit in."
Some contend a change in viewpoint will not alter the fact that race, and racism, are issues at CSU. Black Student Services director Jennifer Molock feels race is a factor no matter how much people try to look past it, and in some cases, deny it.
"I do not believe that racism does not exist anywhere. I believe that there are issues of racism in our campus community," said Molock in an e-mail interview. "Race is always an issue even when people prefer that it not be."
Racism has also divided the experiences of Wooten and Jones over the past year. Jones has not experienced any instance of racism at CSU. Wooten, on the other hand, felt the effects of racism as recently as last week.
"I was walking through the halls in Summit (Hall), and I looked on a whiteboard, and it had the N-word written on it," Wooten said. "It was the first time all year I actually saw something racist, but I think it exists throughout the campus. The incidents may not appear in the paper, but I know people who have felt discriminated against and profiled because they are a minority."
Although Wooten feels there is an undercurrent of racism, he was quick to point out it is not a dominant characteristic of CSU.
"Racism really is everywhere, at every school," Wooten said. "CSU is a lot better than most, and leaps and bounds above some schools in the Deep South. I certainly don't walk around feeling scared or anything. "
Jones seconded Wooten's feelings on the presence of racism at CSU.
"Is there some racism? I am sure there is, there is everywhere," Jones said. "The state, and CSU, just aren't huge hotbeds for it is all. I don't think the majority of students, or Colorado citizens, are racist. I certainly haven't felt like it during my time here."