Breaking the Spelmanite Identity: Navigating Complexity and Diversity

Models for the Ralph Lauren -Morehouse College and Spelman College collaboration.
Models for the Ralph Lauren -Morehouse College and Spelman College collaboration.
Nadine Ijewere for Polo Ralph Lauren

To define what it means to be a Spelmanite or a Spelman woman is just like asking to define what it means to be a Black woman. There are many ways to be; our identities can often be so complex that they intertwine and are intersectional.

I have realized that there is an air of expectation of Spelman students to be and look a certain way. There have even been many comparisons of Spelman students and Clark students, which in itself is rooted in misogynoir and is problematic and divisive. This expectation extends beyond the confines of social media and delves into the essence of Spelman’s identity.

Despite its prestigious reputation, Spelman College grapples with the reality of class diversity among its student body. While some students hail from affluent backgrounds and have celebrity parents, others are first-generation college students striving to break socio-economic barriers. Where do they fit in the Spelman archetype?

Through candid conversations and personal narratives, we explore the challenges, triumphs, and disparities anonymous students from different socio-economic backgrounds face.

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G, Junior, Comp Sci Major:

She shares that she does feel like there is a romanticized version of being a Spelmanite, stating, “With some of my friends, we’ve discussed a particular version of a Spelmanite as it pertains to the White Attire Tradition and the standard that alums or some administration have imposed on Spelmanites.” While there is this idealized belief, she rejects the confines of traditions, asserting that “just because it exists, it doesn’t mean you should have to follow it.”

Despite initial pressures to conform, G finds solace in embracing her eccentricity, which can be an anomaly in her major, and she concluded our interview with, “I believe in being the type of Spelmanite that is most natural to you.”


N, Senior, Econ Major:

While having distant legacy connections, N only knew her legacy once she was accepted; however, she is not first-generation and has had some prior knowledge about the college experience before attending Spelman.

She affirms that there is an ideal Spelmanite, and we discussed the pressures of being an academic weapon; she resonated with this and stated, “I feel like I have to be doing a million and one things to prove myself. That includes organizations, looks, and social life. If I fall short, then I shouldn’t be where I am. I’m unlearning this.” Despite societal pressures, N defines a Spelmanite as “a black woman who deserves to be here.”

She emphasized that Spelmanites have a strong work ethic and added that one “encourages sisterhood and mentorship,” she added that Spelmanites are “strong in her own path and shines in and outside of the gates.”


H, Senior, Psychology Major:

As a first-generation Spelmanite, H recognizes societal pressure but remains headstrong in her identity, sharing that “despite any feelings certain types of cultures at Spelman, I feel no pressure to alter anything about myself to ‘fit in’.”

She shares the sentiment that there is an ideal Spelmanite, adding that it “usually consists of students who are Jack & Jill, legacies, Greek students, pageant winners, etc.” She believes she embodies the essence of a Spelmanite, challenging the idealized norms emphasizing individuality by stating, “I stay true to myself.. treat others with compassion.. have a passion for service and I am academically ambitious.”


S, Senior, Biology Major:

As a legacy, S reflects on the romanticized image of a Spelmanite being “presenting very feminine and being very involved.” However, she admits that she does not fit into the “upper class and more ideal categories.”

She shares that in her early days at Spelman, she felt some pressure to align with more of the rigid ideals of what it means to be a Spelmanite. Still, she adds, “I’ve become much more comfortable in the way I present myself.”

As a person who identifies with the LGBT community, She emphasizes the importance of inclusivity. She finds that the romanticized image of a Spelmanite is often “hyper feminine women who are upper class, conventionally attractive, heterosexual, and are part of a specific set of organizations.”

Beyond academic excellence and social prestige, the Spelmanite identity encompasses resilience, community, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. We cannot allow the past to shape our current future; we were each chosen to attend this illustrious institution for a reason. We have to leave our personalized mark on this campus; it doesn’t matter who your parents are or what they do; what matters is how we impact our campus, community, and, eventually, the world.

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