In this edition of Rowan Blog, we look into the #PROFspective of Public Health and Wellness major Cristofer Conner of Burlington County. In this dialogue, we learn more of Cristofer’s time on campus as well as some of his own thoughts to his decision making on selecting Rowan University, his future career and his own experience as a Black academic at a predominantly white institution.
Thank you to Tatianna Addison ’21 for this series idea to honor Black students during Black History Month.
How would you describe the experience that you’ve had here at Rowan as a Black student? How has this molded your perspective of Rowan?
My experience as a Black student at Rowan University at first was quite different mainly because I came from a school that was primarily minorities at Monroe College. But, coming to this year, my experience kind of expanded. I started hanging out with various different people regardless of skin color or if they were a minority. It’s kind of like a mixture and a balance. Rowan University reminds me a lot of high school because mine was built the same way. You basically had a lot of different perspectives of people from white to Black, Hispanics and Asian, which helped me out because I had friends from all different races.
So I kind of felt at home … I have friends from all different colors and they all help me gain more perspectives of life through their own way. Exposing myself to all of these different groups has affected me as a whole for the better.
Could you tell us your thought process when you had decided on Public Health and Wellness as your major?
So my main focus for Public Health and Wellness was that, as an athlete myself, I like to be a part of sports. When I was getting out of high school I had aspirations of playing professional lacrosse and I stopped doing that due to personal reasons. When I was thinking of my major and what I wanted to do here at Rowan and Monroe College I knew that I didn’t want to leave the sports realm but I still wanted to help out. A lot of people that I’m around, especially the gym, had always told me that I was a great trainer in the way that I helped others reach their goals. Thanks to them it gave me an idea: “Why don’t I just get a Exercise Sciences or Public Health and Wellness degree?”
Training athletes or people that just want to get healthy in general is very satisfying to me and it could provide me a nice avenue of living. Everyone always says to have a plan B before your plan A, which I live by. Right now I have aspirations of trying to get into the professional league for rugby but that is also on the back burner. I need the degree first as a certainty in case anything does not work out. That’s why I really want to get into Exercise Science and Public Health and Wellness, to train and cultivate the next generation.
What can you tell us of your experience with the Rugby Club? What parts of the club make it feel like home or a community?
The Rugby Club is like a family. When I first came here last year, everybody was still just starting to get to know me, they understood why I was still staying to the side. Over time, all of the members just started to get me more involved. They would approach me and say things like “You come to practice, you work hard with us, we can see that you’re learning, you are a part of our family.” There’s a wide amount of different personalities on the team and it’s really interesting as to how they all blend together. Like I said, it really is like a family. I’ve experienced something similar to this before, but never like how it is with the Rugby Club. For example, there was a time where I had a personal issue with my room and I had asked the captain if it would be alright if I could stay over at his place. He responded in a way that really struck home that this place was a second home to me. He said, “Why do you even need to ask? You can just do it at any time.” The coaches are great, they really focus on you even if it’s constructive criticism. They want you to do better and excel. The work ethic is also up there, we all see people working hard and it motivates us to do the same. It’s just a family, once you’re in, you’re always in.
If you feel comfortable discussing, could you discuss your Black heritage?
I don’t really know of my heritage. I get that question all the time where people ask, “What type of Black are you?” and I get kind of embarrassed by the question. You have people that know exactly where they come from and in comparison I don’t entirely know, all I do know is that I am Black. I want to find out one day just for myself. But in terms of heritage with my immediate family, I consider myself the blend of both my mom and dad. My parents always told me that I am not just my skin color. I know that in the eyes of this world there are going to be times where I’m seen as a skin color, but that type of reassurance is something that I cherish. For example, my dad was into anime and gaming and would interact with everyone when he was in school just like me.
My mom wasn’t into anime but when she was in high school she had two options: a Black dance team or cheerleading team where they had no Black people. She went to join the cheerleading team afterwards, and although she liked the dance team she knew she wanted to be a cheerleader irregardless of the spectrum of skin color. My parents would always tell me that I am not my skin color, I don’t have to play football or basketball because I’m Black. Being into things that I’m interested in was the most important part. I remember watching with my dad shows like Gundam and I would go to school and people were really confused as to why I was watching that and not shows that most other Black people would. I’m just not that type of person, I’m multilayered and do things that I want to do and not what is expected of me because of my skin color. Because of my heritage, I will say that it does define me, but not that much because I am more than just a label.
Are there any moments in particular here at Rowan where you could feel the inclusiveness?
I will say that when they did the club fair back in September, I did feel included. All of the different multicultural clubs were very welcoming in the way that they tried to grab my attention. They were very upfront with how they wanted you to come to their meetings and become included. Even though I’m a part of the Rugby Club, other sports clubs had approached me and tried to get me to join up. It was just a funny thing because I told them of my obligations to the Rugby Club and they still wanted to try and recruit me in any way. They still wanted to sign my name up and be a part of the different group chats that they have.
Has Rowan ever spurred a moment where you think of who you are as a person?
There was a situation that had happened, long story short it was a rooming situation and I had felt as if there was a lot just piling onto me. I kind of had to move out the room and had to really refocus on myself. Thankfully with the people that I have around me I was able to realize why I had to force myself in certain situations. That type of forcing made me reflect on how that person that I was trying to put forward wasn’t me. It opened my eyes a lot. There are situations where my friend might ask me to go somewhere and I can confidently say that I would rather not. I know myself and I know how I am and my own tendencies. I can say no, I don’t have to put myself into situations that I don’t want to in order to fit a mold. I feel that I can. I’m not interested in something and offer an alternative that everyone is happy with. The more I’ve been here and listening to what my friends and family say I can put my best self forward in situations where I know I’m going to be happy.
How do you envision yourself after Rowan?
So my main dream is to get drafted by Major League Rugby. The whole junior and senior year of the Rugby Club is going to the combine, which I think is really cool. It’s going to be really competitive but I look forward to the challenge. I hope that I get drafted, I’m in the gym working out as hard as I can but even if things don’t work out I would like to work at an HBCU [historically Black college or university] and become a coach for rugby there. A lot of HBCU schools don’t have a Rugby Club or team for some reason. The sport has expanded to some different schools, but I believe it still doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.
Really, I want to coach the different generations of students at these schools and teach them that they don’t have to just play football. I want them to realize that they can play a different sport, play a more active role and what can be considered a lot safer, which would be rugby. Especially as a Black man, there’s always a perceived notion of how to be successful in life that is constantly shown to us which is being a professional football player, basketball player or music artist — which I think is great, if that is your dream then pursue it to the best of your ability — but I want them to realize that’s not the only thing available to them.
When I played lacrosse in high school I was always asked as to why I was playing it due to it being a “white” sport. I saw it as nothing more than a sport and rejected those racial ideas. Yes, it is predominantly white, but there are Black athletes in the sport as well as other minorities. It’s more than just a white sport. There’s more avenues to life, and I want to push on that same path for other people like myself.
What words would you give to a Black high school student thinking of attending Rowan?
I would say that I think Rowan is a great place to come to. You’re always going to be intimidated by a new environment. It’s a great place of inclusion, you have every little bit of everything. It’s multicultural, you don’t have to fixate on just one singular thing. You don’t have to keep what you already know and let it define who you are. Explore, adventure out and do new things. If it’s a club that you’re interested in then go for it, this is the best time for you to find out who you are. There’s no need to centralize yourself just because of what others deem as acceptable. Rowan is a place you have so many different types of people, and there’s always a way to make a friend in any area.
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Lucas Taylor, senior secondary English education major