Evan Santiago

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — For many African American students at Winthrop University homecoming is one of the most anticipated events of the school year.

Sports, music and parties often come to mind when discussing homecoming, but for many black students and alumni the event means so much more.

Dr. Otha Jennifer Dixon-McKnight, a professor of history and African American studies at Winthrop, said her homecoming experiences as a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been made special by attending events specifically for black students and alumni.

“It’s an opportunity for those of us who had similar experiences, both as a whole institution, but also in a more sort of specialized experience in terms of us as black students at UNC, to be able to come back and gather together and sort of reminisce and connect, having had the shared experience,” said Dixon-McKnight.

Homecoming week is especially significant at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), which is something students at Winthrop are well aware of.

Ryen Cohen, a Winthrop student who often hosts homecoming events on campus, is part of an unofficial student group called Rock Hill State University, which organizes events that cater to African American students and their interests.

Cohen said the group formed, because many black students wanted events that would help enhance their collegiate experience at a predominantly white institution like Winthrop.

Ryen Cohen is a member of the student group Rock Hill State, which tries to create the atmosphere of an HBCU at Winthrop through events (photo: Evan Santiago).

“At a lot of HBCUs homecoming is really big, like it’s truly for the alumni. You will really have people from the class of 1979 coming back and it’s 2019. They take that really serious,” Cohen said. “(With Rock Hill State), we’re just coming together and doing things that cater to us, so things that are for us and by us.”

Dixon-McKnight said homecoming often gives black students, especially those who happen to be first-generation college students, the opportunity to feel part of something larger than themselves.

“Winthrop is not a huge school. We have a very intimate population and so I think it’s easier for us here to remain connected in general. But with the return of alumni and things of that sort, it gives (first-generation students) a more clear sense that they belong to a much larger community,” said Dixon-McKnight.

“It’s a reminder of what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s also a demonstration of how we’ve been able to expand ourselves,” she said. “It ties us to something other than where we come from.”