When the USC Sigma Chi’s called me nigger

I’d been dreaming of living in California since age 14. That’s when I convinced myself the Golden State was a great escape from my abusive family and lonely life in Indianapolis.

My escape plan was simple: Graduate from high school in June of 1980; enroll at the University of Southern California in September of 1980.

My first memorable moment as a college freshman: being called nigger the week before school starts by bros from the all-white, all-mighty Sigma Chi fraternity.

Racism in college fraternities

My Sigma Chi welcome took place on a night when a handful of us new black students were walking home after a social function. As we passed the frat house on an otherwise quiet Greek Row, a head peeked through the Sigma Chi curtains.

“Oh, niggers,” said a Sigma Chi, as if disappointed we weren’t a group of white sorority girls or white fraternity boys. His comment was followed by the sound of brothers laughing.

Welcome to California, nigger.

Us niggers were way outnumbered on the all-white, Dixie-flag-waving, USC Greek Row, and there were more female niggers than male niggers among us, so us niggers got out of there quickly and quietly like the smart niggers we were.

Later that night, I had to find somewhere to be alone. I borrowed another student’s bike, rode to the LA Memorial Coliseum and broke down in tears while looking at the lit field below me, thinking: What do I do now? I can’t just go back home. It’s not even the first week of school yet.

With the Coliseum as my witness, I vowed then and there to escape my new jail and this all-white-private-fraternity-party school ASAP. It was already time to dream up a new and better dream.

In the meantime, I was even more determined to get my college boy on, as planned. That meant: becoming a USC yell leader (no doubt in my mind), keep looking for my dream buddy, and continuing being a great inmate, er, student, then, eventually, get the f*%k out of the University of Spoiled (and racist) Children who say things like, “oh, niggers.”

Randy Boyd

In retrospect, I should have gone to the Dean and (the school paper) the day after the incident, and told them both how much it hurt, hearing the Sigma Chi’s call me nigger.

I should have cried in front of them and let them see the tears of a hurt black boy who had put all his hopes and dreams into USC, only to have those dreams shattered in one casual blow when, the week before freshman year starts, he’s welcomed with “oh, niggers” coming from one of the richest, all-white fraternities on the all-white fraternity row (one or two token niggers excepted, oh.)

But kids generally don’t speak up, let alone reveal how hurt they feel. As an adult, I can admit that I still cry for the 18-year-old boy who had to hear “oh, niggers” coming from the Sigma Chi house.

I can also admit that, because I grew up the youngest in a house full of violent and abusive black boys and black men, my adolescent heart longed for white boys and white men, the kind who hugged people and rescued people, as seen on TV and in the movies.

As such, my escape to California and USC was my chance to escape my angry black family and meet the white boy of my dreams, who would naturally come complete with his white friends and family.

I know I’m not the only abused black boy who’s dreamt up this dream. It’s what some black boys do. It’s how we adapt to the harsh circumstances around us. It’s still a part of me, and at age 18, it was the stuff of my California dreams. Can you say, surf’s up!

A month before college, while still at home in Indy, I received advanced warning of the rough racial seas ahead. It came in the form of a large booklet about the USC fraternity system. Every fraternity was on display, many with photos featuring all its members (in front of the house itself).

“Why are there no blacks in the white fraternities, and vice-versa for the few black frats, who don’t seem to have actual houses?” I asked a friend named Kelvin (a senior and a Sigma Chi at Ball State and a co-worker at my summer job). He explained how all fraternities and sororities were segregated, not legally so much as, de facto.

“There are one or two exceptions now and then,” said Kelvin.

This unexpected education on racism in college fraternities before my enrollment in a “big-time school with a good basketball or football team and a great party life” was daunting, to say the least. But it was August. I was already on the launchpad, the engines were revving, the mission, four years in the works, was about to blast off, and I couldn’t let a little booklet stop the California Express now!

And so a few weeks later, at the end of the summer of 1980, the little black boy turned high school graduate turned young man took off for college and his California dreams. A one-way ticket. Indianapolis to LAX.

Days after landing, I hear “oh, niggers” coming from the USC Sigma Chi house, home of the most beautiful of the beautiful white people that dominate the landscape. And the school. Welcome to California, nigger.

Back then, I wish I had bared witness to my pain, then carried on with my college dreams: wild parties, dorm hi-jinks, homecoming floats, football games. And beer! I went to college for the college life. And to meet my husband. Oh, yeah, and get a degree.

But that degree would not be earned at USC.

“Oh, niggers” ruined USC for me. From that night on, the Trojans were a bust. While I was there, I gave it the old college try, lol, but I was determined not to live the rest of my life saying, I graduated from USC.

Which is exactly why I transferred to, became a cheerleader at, and graduated from UCLA in 1985. Go Bruins!

Randy Boyd at Disneyland
Randy Boyd, freshman at USC in 1981.

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