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2 friends, colorful and color-blind

By BETH KASSAB

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


GAINESVILLE -- University of Florida student Sarah Dew grew up in a white neighborhood, went to a predominantly white high school and spent most of her time with white friends.

In college, though, the 19-year-old from St. Augustine is one of the few white students willing to put herself in situations where she is firmly in the minority.

Dew is one of a handful of white students who goes to affirmative action forums on campus. On many nights, she is the only white person hanging out at the Institute of Black Culture, a center of black social life in Gainesville.

Dew doesn't consider herself particularly enlightened; she just likes to spend time with her roommate, 20-year-old Jennifer Mann, who is most definitely not white.

"Oh God, Jen, is this going to be one of those "down-with-whitey' forums?" Dew jokingly asked her roommate when Mann urged her to attend a recent forum on One Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to overhaul affirmative action.

Mann, a broadcast major, says she thinks it's important that Dew experiences other cultures. "It bothers me that white people don't come into the Institute of Black Culture," she says. "Having Sarah there shows other black students that some white students do care."

Dew and Mann did not choose each other as roommates. As freshmen, they were randomly assigned two years ago to the same dorm room.

They quickly became friends.

Now they go to the beach together. They exercise at GatorFunk aerobics together. They even take some classes together.

Mann says some of her black friends have been surprised by her choice of roommates, saying things like "I don't know how you do it."

Both women say they rarely discuss race. It is a non-issue, they say, especially compared to the stress of their studies and work.

Posters of black and white models and framed photographs of black and white family members cover the walls of their room. On Dew's desk is a framed close-up of her and Mann, arms wrapped tightly around each other.

The two say they spend a lot of time with Mann's black friends. Dew says they are her friends, too.

"People also can't believe that she flat irons my hair," Mann says. In what has become a nightly ritual inside the 8- by 12-foot room, Dew helps Mann smooth her long hair with rollers or a hot-iron before they go to sleep.

"From the first night she watched me roll my hair I was like, "This child has never really been around black people before,"' Mann says. "Here's my chance to shape someone's view of a group of people."

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