Catherine Donnelly’s True Confessions
First Lady Michelle Obama (left). Catherine Donnelly, her mother and her grandmother at Princeton’s commencement ceremonies (right).
Have you heard of Catherine Donnelly? She and her story have attracted intermittent attention during the last 12 months (a recent video interview with Connelly was linked through Yahoo News), because of the light that it sheds on the short-sightedness of racism. You see, Donnelly is a white woman from Louisiana, and during her first semester at Princeton University, Donnelly was Michelle Obama’s roomate.
Both Donnelly and her mother, now 71 years old are surprisingly candid about the minor tempest that erupted when they arrived at the University and learned that young Catherine’s assigned roommate was African American. In a June article in The Boston Globe, both women describe the moment:
As Catherine Donnelly climbed the stairs to her dorm room at Princeton University over a quarter-century ago, the Louisiana freshman felt ready for whatever lay ahead. But then she met Michelle.
Her full name was Michelle LaVaughn Robinson. She was so tall that her head seemed to brush the sloping ceiling of the cramped fourth-floor room. She was Donnelly’s new roommate. And she was black.
Well, this was new.
Growing up in the South, Donnelly had gone to school with a handful of black classmates, but living together was quite another thing. Donnelly quickly warmed to Robinson, with her big sense of humor and riveting stories. But she was worried that her mother, who Donnelly said had grown up in a racist family, would not react well. She was right.
When Donnelly’s mother, now 71, learned the race of her daughter’s roommate , she was beside herself. She called alumni friends to object. And the next morning she marched into the student housing office.
“I said I need to get my daughter’s room changed right away,” recalled Alice Brown, a retired schoolteacher, who has since come to regret her reaction. “I called my own mother and she said, ‘Take Catherine out of school immediately. Bring her home.’ I was very upset about the whole thing.”
Posted by Ajuan Mance