The Same Black Threat

Most of my vivid memories live in the moments at Perry House we shared.

Like many who were privileged to live at Perry House, I miss it the most. To quote President Cassidy, I was one of those “generations of students of color who experienced and sustained Perry House as a source of sanctuary, inspiration, friendship, strength, resilience, and hope.”

Most of my vivid memories live in the moments at Perry House we shared. Sitting in my own living room right now in Germany around the holidays, I dream vividly of snow days, parties, and quiet conversations at Perry House and being Black at Bryn Mawr. Bryn Mawr called me an international student, but we all bonded and grew together as members of the Black global community. I was one of a few Black frosh who lived in Haffner German. As people got to know me, I became the Kenyan who lived at Perry and then the girl from Nairobi, Kenya, who was a Cities major. I grew more confident in my identity on campus, but it was always clear that, as Black students, we are Black first.

We once had a tea at Perry House curated by BACaSO (Bryn Mawr African and Caribbean Student Organization) and Sisterhood* [the asterisk denotes that Sisterhood* is open to all genders and gender expressions]. One of the questions we walked through was the experiences of being African, Caribbean, and African-American in the United States. We honestly wondered how to navigate these multiple identities, particularly since we had such diverse roots. Professor Kalala Ngalamulume was our faculty guest at this conversation, and after listening to folks around the room, he reminded us that whether faculty, staff, student, or intern, we were all seen as the same Black threat on the street wherever we go. He shared that despite being excellent, there were numerous people who would see us as unwelcome, even with our prestigious school identities. He urged us to consider what unites us, rather than what separates us as Black people in the world. He made it clear that whatever our differences, we had a common Black experience, and we should focus on that.

Across campus, I gravitated to Black faculty, staff, and community members, many of whom embraced us as children away from home and, whether through conversation, acts of kindness, prayers, or support, helped us as we came more into our own. Particularly when the campus came apart around racially motivated incidents among students, their support nurtured me.

My notions of home away from home were cemented at Perry House. As we walk into the holidays in a year where Black and other minority people have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, I think of the wonderful meal one special mom made in the Perry Kitchen around Finals. We often had family and friends visit us at Perry, and every so often, this would be near Finals. We were all in the study or in our rooms or the living room trying to write papers or study for final exams, and we were stressed out. Nobody was really eating well or, to be honest, sleeping well, and we were looking rough. This very special mom walked through the ground floor and declared that we needed a meal. I can still taste the wonderfulness of her mac and cheese.

In my time at Bryn Mawr, it was tempting to hide from confrontation of the structural racism, inequity, and racial injustices in the folds of my international student identity. Many fellow Black students and trusted Black community members called me out lovingly and helped me interrogate my positions and clarify my voice in support of Black and minority equity and justice. These are things that I can never repay fully, but I now pay forward through my work in advocacy, partnerships, and communications.


This issue of the Alumnae Bulletin presents reflections from Black alumnae/i and students spanning 65 years in the life of the College.

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Josephine Karianjahi ’09 is a celebrated connector, experienced international development consultant, social changemaker-in-residence, and podcaster from Nairobi. She brings people together and, as co-director of Africa Podfest, brings the best of Africa in podcasting to the world. She speaks to audiences around the world about using their research, voice, and platform to create community change. Using film and mixed media, she has led other innovative projects in the African advocacy space, mobilizing new media to bring community partners together for women’s and girls’ empowerment. She is on the board of the Action Foundation Kenya, which focuses on inclusive education for children and young people living with disabilities.