UCF junior Travis Slocum has vivid memories of facing racism while growing up. Born in Little Rock, Ark., and raised in a military family, he frequently moved around the South and encountered animosity for the color of his skin.
“I would walk down the street and get called names,” Slocum says.
In adulthood, Slocum continues to experience being a minority. As a mechanical engineering major, he has witnessed firsthand a lack of black representation within the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I can sit in a lecture hall of 400 people and see no one who looks like me,” he says.
His black peers share stories with him about their own struggles, such as the prejudice that often comes with wearing their natural hairstyles in the workplace. But Slocum is bringing awareness to minority experiences. As a prominent voice on campus, he emphasizes the importance of self-actualization, advocates for equality, and encourages black representation in a diverse range of fields.
“A lot of the different stereotypes that are placed on black individuals are misconstrued,” Slocum says. “If you break down the black culture itself into segments of different things unrelated to sports or performing arts and highlight things like STEM or excellence within politics, you’ll see how far we’ve come as a culture.”
Black and Proud
For Slocum, Black History Month is not only about celebrating, but also educating the public on the roots of African-Americans.
“I believe Black History Month is significant because many people don’t know too much about black culture,” Slocum says. “[Some blacks] really don’t know where it originates from. This causes a lot of self-identity issues in understanding who they are and where they come from.”
While Black History Month often focuses on inspirational black voices of the past, Slocum finds equal importance in celebrating the visionaries of today.
“To me, the present is the most important place you can be,” he says, naming his father, teachers and multiple UCF faculty and staff members as some of the influential figures throughout his life.
When summing up the black identity, Slocum references UCF’s theme for this year’s Black History Month: Black Is _____. Students are encouraged to fill in the blank with their own opinions of what it means to be black. For Slocum, determination and resilience are synonymous with the spirit of the black community.
“Being black is having everything stacked against you but knowing in the end you’ll still come out on top,” he says. “Black is beautiful.”
Getting Involved at UCF
Slocum is an easily recognizable face at UCF. After transferring from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 2014, he quickly became involved in student organizations and leadership positions. Through his role as cultural director of the Multicultural Student Center, he organizes programs and events that spotlight UCF’s diverse student body.
Slocum currently holds the title of Mr. National Council of Negro Women and competed in the Mr. UCF Scholarship Pageant this month, placing second. He is also a member of the UCF Gospel and Cultural Choir, National Society of Black Engineers, and Black Student Union.
“I believe here at UCF minority students need to get involved, and it’s not an option,” Slocum says. “I believe that it’s a necessity. If you have people from a cultural group or ethnicity who have leadership roles, it will inspire others. From that, we will be able to have more diverse conversations, programming and interaction within the student body.”