Black at Rice: Taylor Crain
Taylor Crain is many things. She is a novelist, poet, aspiring fashion designer, club leader — and she is Black. Crain believes these are all equal facets of her identity.
“To improve representation across the spectrum of Black experiences … it should be like they’re Black and [other things], not just their whole identity is being Black,” Crain, a Lovett College junior, said.
At Rice, Crain founded the Rice Creative Society and is working on countless writing projects of her own. But Crain said her experience as a Black woman hasn’t been easy, especially in the predominantly White suburbs where she grew up.
“When I’d go to the pool, I’d have to wear a cap because I couldn’t get my hair wet,” Crain said. “Other girls could just jump in.”
Crain said her parents were hyperaware of the extra mile Black girls had to go in order to be seen as acceptable. Wanting to shield her and her sister from the pain of racism, her parents taught her to always be well-behaved and well-groomed.
“[I remember] having to negotiate constantly [my] space and [my] identity to make other people comfortable,” Crain said.
From a young age, Crain said she was bullied for her appearance.
“Playing with dolls growing up and not seeing full lips or thick brows and very thick hair [was] something that I was conscious of — to the point where I pushed my mom to let me get a perm so that my hair would be straighter,” Crain said. “I’d be bullied for my lips a lot in school.”
In middle school, Crain began to suffer from anxiety and depression, which she said stemmed from the pressure to be overachieving in every aspect of her life. Along with playing basketball for a select team, Crain was involved in violin, piano and dance. Being an athlete while also succeeding in school, Crain said she felt an overwhelming pressure to be perfect.
“[I] just [became] associated with perfection and [had] to strive for perfection constantly,” Crain said. “No one was really there to be like, ‘It’s okay to not always be on the top of your game, to fail at something.’”
But amid her struggle, Crain said she was able to find a life raft.
“I really struggled with depression and anxiety in middle school and high school,” Crain said. “I’d say the only thing that really helped was that I started writing.”
She was also motivated to write by the need for Black representation in novels.
“I feel like society, in terms of media and film and books and news, has limited Black experience to either be impoverished or this rapper-level [rich],” Crain said. “Those both are experiences, but they’re not the only ones … I wanted to see myself in what I was reading,” Crain said.
Although she suffered from insomnia in middle school, Crain said it allowed her to explore her love for writing.
“I’d finish my homework and then I’d stay up till 6 [a.m.], right when I had to go to school and just type on my computer,” Crain said.
In high school, Crain continued to face stigmas, particularly a racial divide between her basketball team and the rest of her high school.
“[The school] just assumed that we were all ghetto or ‘too Black’ or not that educated, so they kind of looked down on us,” Crain said.
Although writing provided an escape, Crain continued to struggle with mental health in high school. The pressure to play well enough to get a college basketball scholarship, as well as the pressure to succeed academically, weighed on Crain.
However, due to reasons beside mental health, she was given a reprieve: homeschooling. Frustrated with the toxic environment created by her basketball coaches and her teachers’ unwillingness to work around her basketball practice schedule, Crain’s parents decided to homeschool her starting junior year.
“I could probably say that homeschooling saved my life,” Crain said. “It gave me time to step back.”
Since coming to Rice, Crain has kept herself busy. After noticing the lack of resources and diverse course options in the School of Humanities, Crain founded the Rice Creative Society, intended to connect students of all backgrounds with networking opportunities and expose them to a variety of creative career fields. Through her club, Crain also uses her platform to bring up issues of diversity and course offerings to the School of Humanities.
Additionally, Crain is working on some personal projects of her own: A fantasy novel and a poetry book are on the way, with short stories and a potential screenplay in the works. She’s also branching out into other creative fields, hoping to someday start a clothing line that promotes inclusivity for all body types and gender identities.
Through her writing, Crain said she hopes to illustrate a variety of different Black experiences.
“The only way to answer that issue is to have a full spectrum of middle-class, LGBTQ+, upper-middle-class, upper-class [experiences] — not just have these depictions be flat [and] two-dimensional,” Crain said.
Although her main passion is writing, Crain said she wasn’t always confident in her writing. It took the encouragement of her friends to perform spoken word poetry at Africayé her freshman year before she began to have faith in her abilities.
After performing a poem she’d written three days earlier for the students in charge of Africayé, Crain said she was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response.
“I didn’t feel like it was me speaking,” Crain said. “This strong woman — that I didn’t think I was but I thought that I could always be — just possessed me. And nothing felt more right.”
Crain said that for a while, she struggled to find strength while dealing with her mental health issues.
“I think in communities of color, people don’t want to accept that mental health is a [problem],” Crain said. “I’ve always had to be, in that aspect, outspoken and self-aware … I know I shouldn’t have to live like this.”
As for her racial identity, Crain said she’s learning to embrace her natural self — and her natural hair.
“I cut my hair last August, and I feel a big shift in my energy,” Crain said. “It’s fine for me to be myself or express who I am as a young Black woman without having the extra embellishments or adornments to be more societally acceptable.”
Editor’s Note: This is an installment of Black at Rice, a features series intended to highlight and celebrate black voices on and off campus. Have someone in mind? Nominate them here.
[10/15/2019 9:20 p.m.] This article was updated to reflect that RCS is open to students of all backgrounds and that Crain’s homeschooling was a result of a toxic environment caused by her coaches as opposed to a lack of resources.
More from The Rice Thresher
When Bianca Lopez arrived on the Rice campus in 2019, she received a warning about the resident associate program: “Only crazy people do that.” RAs, a unique feature of Rice’s residential college system, are adult members of the community who live alongside and support students in residential colleges, often with their partners and children. Despite the warning, Lopez, who works in asset management for Rice Management Company, was excited to get involved.
Across State Highway 288 from Rice, the Third Ward neighborhood of Houston is an area teeming with rich history, great restaurants and fun activities. Our recommendations below are great starting points to get a better feel of Third Ward’s thriving culture and history.
For some, it is all too easy to take fresh water for granted. However, in many parts of the United States and the world, clean water is a commodity. Dozens of labs and organizations are working to solve this problem, including the Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Center on Rice’s campus. The NEWT Center is an engineering research center that aims to advance global water-treatment technologies. Other universities — Arizona State University, University of Texas at El Paso and Yale University — are also involved with NEWT. Dr. Rafael Verduzco, a Rice professor and researcher at NEWT, said that the connections between these universities are an important part of the center.