We all come to college with certain expectations. On my first day, I would have never expected I would be the first Black woman my peers had met nor that I would be living in a dorm with three white women who purposely excluded me from their conversations. At the end of the first week, I was homesick and looking at HBCUs to transfer to. I couldn’t believe I was the only person of color in my lectures. I had never been in an environment where I was the anomaly, a speck of Black within a sea of White. I grew up going to an international school where people’s cultures were embraced and their ethnicity accepted. But as I came to understand, Black people stand out like a sore thumb at PWIs (Predominantly White Institutions).
In light of the recent events on UVA’s campus, it is obvious that minority students in today’s America are still under threat. Our history is not known, our culture is mocked and our bodies are not respected. We are the elephant in the room, silenced, brushed aside and out of sight. Despite this, there are many paths to success at PWIs. These seven tips will empower you and hopefully shed some light on ways you can remain a BAUCE at a PWI.
1) Find your Happiness
Above anything, your happiness is first. In order to endure the tense environment at a PWI, self-acceptance is your kryptonite. Racist comments and micro aggressions are difficult for anyone to withstand, but the fact that you have to sleep, eat and essentially live in the same place as your aggressor, it’s important that you find some means of obtaining some joy. Whether it’s getting your nails done every weekend or keeping a small journal recounting your experiences, do something to fulfill yourself. Take time out of your busy schedule to cater to your utmost needs. When your mind body and soul are in harmony, nothing can bring you down.
2) Get Active on Campus
The key to happiness is finding your community. In order to do so, it is necessary to get out there and meet people. Write for your school’s newspaper or get a job on campus. Join the Black Student Union or whatever groups you identify with. It will help you to find your community. Just do something. The more you do the more probable it is that you will find like-minded people who are undergoing similar experiences on campus. It’s important to have people who understand you, and who you can lean on. While there may not be a large population of POC at your school, you can bond with students through mutual interests and hobbies.
3) Speak Out
My college was constantly neglecting the voices of minority students and members of the greater city community. Students called for better contracts for adjunct professors, the disarmament of the university’s police force and divestment from fossil fuels. With just their voices, I saw the change that my peers created on campus. There are resources for change at every PWI. As long as you have your voice, make an effort to discuss the racial and social climate at your campus. This can enlighten administrators to your experience hopefully prompt them to make improvements for future generations.
4) Explore Cultural Centers
Most PWI’s will at least have a space dedicated to students of color that offer specialized support by people who look just like you. The college I attended had an African-American Institute which saved my life. I would constantly spend intimate time with my Black peers who comforted me and genuinely cared for my well being. At the institute, there were always meetings discussing problems we faced on campus and ways to overcome those problems. Cultural centers can be safe space for students of color, the sense of pride and unity received from being amongst students of the diaspora is nurturing and much needed.
5) Keep Mentally and Physically Healthy
Maintaining your mental and physical health is imperative to succeeding at a PWI. The sheer emotional labor of existing at a PWI is enormous but in order to remain strong, your physical and mental health must be in tact. Between classes take the time to go to the gym, do a Zumba class or whatever keeps your body moving and healthy. Likewise, take the initiative to talk to a therapist. Sometimes what you need is to vent, and you can do that in a healthy way by expressing your feelings to a certified therapist at your school’s health center. They can assist in confronting your feelings and finding habits to assist you in prospering at a PWI.
6) Take Breaks
Once in a while, make it your mission to leave campus and explore. It doesn’t matter if it’s to the movie theatre, CVS or the park adjacent to campus. Just get out. Experience life outside of your college. Talk to people who live in your neighborhood, find a local Thai place or even a new hair salon. Just whatever you do make sure you are taking the time to spend time with yourself outside of the school environment.
7) Love Yourself
Learn to love yourself in a space that doesn’t accept you for you. Love your magic, your curls, and your traditions wholeheartedly. It is only through love that change can appear. Embrace your truths — wear them brightly like a BAUCE.