Interview with Toni Johnson-Chavis
QUESTION 4
JACKIE SHEARER:

Now, when you went to Stanford, you told me an interesting story about the first meeting with your student advisor. Can you tell that story again.

TONI JOHNSON-CHAVIS:

Yeah, I had an advisor the second day I came. The lady was an anatomist and she, at that time, was over the pre-med, the quote "pre-med group" at school. And it was necessary in those days, which is probably now the same thing, to review your curriculum with your advisor and you have to get their John Henry, their signature on your card, ah, approval that you've reviewed your certain classes. Ah, that very first meeting association was, ah, catastrophic. It was somewhat different. I shouldn't say catastrophic because I later did not even go ahead to meet her but, she made it very clear on that first meeting that she thought that I was an exception for someone that was, that was Black, and though my SAT scores were high that in fact she made it, ah, very clear that the quote "White" students actually probably did better. She gave me a suggested curriculum that she thought that I could, that I should take, but, ah, sprinkled a lot of put downs and her doubt that I would be able to master that. And even though I came into school with a very idealistic idea that I was going to be a doctor that she had some real doubts of whether I would ever attain that. It could have been very devastating. But luckily because of the background I came from and, ah, the motivation and self confidence, ah, I understood the racism that was exhibited, ah, actually, somewhat maturely. I was mature enough to even understand why the lady was probably doing what she was doing. It was a very painful experience and I was able to extract myself from that and actually feel sorry if there were other minority students who were, were exposed to that kind of person, and I'm pretty sure that these are the kind of things that operate across the country, not only in colleges, but probably in secondary schools too. I dealt with the situation by never returning to her as an advisor and deciding on my own what curriculum I thought I could handle. And I made some choices to change some things around. I had no idea whether I would be able to handle the curriculum, ah, as she had suggested. I knew that I liked psychology and I liked English and I liked a lot of the social classes in addition to just, hardcore, quote, "sciences". So, I only took two or three of those at a time and made sure I took other classes that were, ah, social in orientation and things that I could really enjoy. Ah, I, I did come into somewhat of a shock in that I was used to making straight As. And when I had to accept the first B, that was somewhat of a letdown. Ah, and I remember actually crying in the bathroom because I had a B and just barely made a C and I absolutely was not used to that, actually having straight As. And I had a roommate that, ah, was very compassionate and she somewhat laughed and she said, "Oh, I think a B is terrific." And I had to sit there and realize that a B was something that I was not used to because of a certain perfectionism that I had. But I realistically looked and said, "Look from what you came from, you tried hard and that is what mattered and just, it's OK, keep trying hard and you'll, you'll get there." Ah, and there were some difficulties. There were differences and I had to work a little harder in certain areas. But there were other areas that kind of came naturally and, and I enjoyed, psych classes and English classes, ah, so I actually, always made sure that I did not approach pre-med with the strict scientific orientation. It was always my feeling that, ah, sciences were necessary but, and later on this came to, to be true, that medicine is a, is a field that is really laced with a lot of social things. Ah, and that really the psych background and the English and being able to feel comfortable talking to people and exposure to all different kind of people, later proved to be very, very valuable, as valuable as the analytical geometry that I had to take.

JACKIE SHEARER:



JACKIE SHEARER:

OK, so I'd like you to describe for me, your first meeting with your student advisor at Stanford.

TONI JOHNSON-CHAVIS:

This is my second day on campus and I had to, ah, get a signature from my advisor for acceptance of my classes. Ah, I biked over to, ah, particularly, the area that I had to go and it was in the old science building at Stanford. And I biked over and went upstairs and met the advisor for the very first time. She's a female anatomist and she was over the pre-med, ah, group at that time and that is why she was selected to be my advisor. I was pretty enthusiastic about meeting her for the first time. I knew she was a lady and she was a pre-med advisor and that she had, ah, and she was an anatomist, and so I thought I was pretty lucky to selected having a lady as an advisor. Quickly I found out that it was not what I thought it was going to be. Ah, as I entered the room, I could tell just by body language and the way she received me, that, ah, there was a lot of negativism that, ah, was occurring and I just had a gestalt right away that, though she was female, that, ah, she was not going to be probably the nicest person that I met. Quickly, she began with putdowns. Ah, she was very methodical and reviewed my past, ah, performance in school. And quickly said, "Oh, you made straight As from Compton High. Where is that?" And I told here where it was. "It's an all Black high school isn't it?" And I said, "Yes it is." And she asked me some specific questions of my parents and what did they do. I was struck right away with what difference did that have to do with what my curriculum was and I didn't quite pick up then, what was happening. She then went to my SAT scores. Asked me specifically what my specif- what my SAT scores were. And she said, "Oh, that's really very good. That's very good for, quote "you people." But we have students--"

JACKIE SHEARER:

Cut



JACKIE SHEARER:

OK, so if you could pick where you were saying that she asked you what your parents did.

TONI JOHNSON-CHAVIS:

Yeah, she asked me what my parents did for a living. And at that time I could not figure out what that had to do with anything. Ah, later on I quickly was able to see the essence of what was going on, which I think had a lot to do with racism. She then looked at my SAT scores and reviewed by grades and made the statement that, you know, I had made straight As. She wondered if I was going to be able to carry that out at Stanford and that that my background probably had not prepared me for what to expect there. And that even though my SATs were very high for, "you people", ah, there were many, many students that had top SAT scores and so that that was the climate of what I was going to be up against, so that I should be prepared that I probably would not be able to do very well, that she would, nevertheless, go ahead and, ah, advise me on the usual course for pre-med. And that, usually most students finish that in a 4-year curriculum, that, ah, I might, it might take me a longer period of time to finish that, ah, but that would be, you know, OK, if, if I could in fact finish that. Quickly, the same enthusiastic person that marched in the room was not tearful but within 15 minutes, I really realized the rude reception that I had just received at Stanford and probably what was going to be the reception that I maybe would receive from a lot of teachers, and that unfortunately I was not going to be exposed to the same type of, ah, encouragement and positive attitude that I had been raised with by my parents and/or other teachers in secondary school.