Celebrating Black Excellence in the Many Forms It Takes: Spencer Tate ’22

In honor of the anniversaries on campus — the 50th anniversary of the BCC, 50th anniversary of the Black Studies Program, and 25th anniversary of the Chester Children’s Chorus — the college is Celebrating Black Excellence through programming for this year. The Phoenix, in addition to event coverage, will be publishing features of students on campus who embody Black Excellence in the many forms it takes.

Spencer Tate ’22 is passionate about both the sciences and the arts. He is a prospective Engineering major and Music minor and is involved with extracurriculars related to those interests. Tate is a member of the college’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and a math tutor for the Chester Children’s Chorus. As a musician, Tate is a classical violinist in the Fetter Chamber Music Group, the principal second violinist for the orchestra, and plays other instruments informally with other musicians on campus. Tate has accomplished being a role model and creating community in both of these spaces.

While Tate appreciates the connections and networking opportunities NSBE provides, he mainly enjoys the camaraderie of other Black students in engineering and other S.T.E.M. fields. 

“I think one thing that I really like about NSBE is not only… getting connections outside of college for jobs and internships, but I just really love the community that it’s made with S.T.E.M. majors here because they’re not a lot of Black S.T.E.M. majors here,” said Tate. “It’s just really great to have a group of us to be there to support each other and we all understand what it’s like to be a S.T.E.M. major here … it’s just a great community: very positive and supportive.”

Tate appreciates this community since he finds there to be additional pressure to excel academically because of negative stereotypes and expectations of Black people in S.T.E.M.

“I just feel a lot of pressure to do really well. I guess I just always have this feeling that people are seeing me as Black first. So, with stereotypes about being Black and stuff, I always feel pressure to do well or show that I’m doing well in S.T.E.M. classes,” Tate said.

This same pressure to do well extends into Tate’s experience as a classical musician. He, however, also feels he is able to defy people’s expectations by being a Black, classical violinist in an orchestra.

“I still feel that that same sort of pressure doing classical violin,” said Tate. “But in the orchestra it’s kind of cool to be around all these people who may not have been around a Black violinist before … It’s cool to show that Black people are not all what stereotypes perceive them to be as.”

At the same time, Tate also enjoys playing non-classical music and interact with other Black musicians on campus.

“I really do like jamming with everybody on campus; if I’m your friend, I’m going to jam with you at some point,” Tate said. “It’s great because I can play Black music, not music from a bunch of old dead European white guys. It’s kind of great to be able to play some Black music with Black people. I’ve had a positive experience playing with a variety of different people.”

As a member of NSBE and many music groups on campus, Tate is challenging expectations of Black people in S.T.E.M. and music. He also hopes to serve as a role model for Black youth and does so as a mentor in the Chester Children’s Chorus as a math tutor. As a tutor, Tate feels he is able to be an example of a Black person in S.T.E.M..

“It’s really great how being a Black person teaching them, they get to see somebody who looks like them who’s passionate about math. I feel like that’s really cool to see. I didn’t really get that [growing up]. I can be a Black person for them who’s passionate about math and teaching them math.”

Before arriving at Swarthmore, Tate often found himself to be in white communities and appreciated finding a Black community at the college even though it is small.

“I do like the [Black] community that we have here. Before I came here I was always in only white, not even predominantly white, spaces. I was usually the only Black person in a lot of situations,” said Tate. “Coming here, even though it’s a very small percentage of us here, it’s still more than what I was used to … I’m very happy to be a part of this community here … they understand what it’s like to be here as a Black student.”

In this community, Tate has found his peers to be examples of Black excellence by being at Swarthmore and doing what they’re interested in.

“There are Black students here doing amazing things just by being here. It’s such an elite school. It’s such a small percentage of Black people just being able to be here and excel … it’s just really hard to do.”

In this year’s celebration of Black excellence, Tate has enjoyed the events and speakers. He believes, however, that the celebration means little without acknowledging current issues like representation of both students and faculty. 

“I feel like the school could do more, [the celebration] feels kind of forced,” said Tate. “There’s not that many Black faculty here, there’s 6% of Black students here… It’s better here than most [other colleges], but it’s still a lower percentage of Black people in America that is represented here. It’s not a full representation of Black excellence in this country.”

Tate also hopes for more representation of Black music on campus. Particularly in music and history courses related to music.

“There’s just a lot of opportunities for classical music on campus and Black music is underrepresented and not supported as much as I’d like it to be,” said Tate.“Especially with music classes focused on like Black History … I feel like it can be supported a little more.”

While Tate hopes for there to be more Black representation at the college in the future, he has still found a solid community at Swarthmore.

“It’s just so calming to be around people who know exactly what I mean,” said Tate. “I don’t know how to explain it but it’s just great being in a group of people that share the experience of being Black.”

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