Figuring out what college or university one wants to attend is always difficult. For black students, especially now with the racial epidemic in the United States, they have to decide to attend an HBCU (historically black college/university) or a PWI (predominantly white institution). Blacks students who attend a PWI (speaking from experience) may state that it’s an eye-opening experience. Here is a list to prepare black students attending a PWI in the 21st century.
1. You Deserve to be Here
For starters, you need to know that the institution you are attending believes in you enough that they offered you admission as a student. If they did not expect that you would be a well-rounded individual that was well fit for their community and standards, you would not be there. Remember that you deserve your spot at that PWI institution because you earned your seat.
2. You are not a Spokesperson, but a Voice
As a black student at PWI, you may be asked upon to give your view of the problems of the racial epidemic and ways to solve the problems; however, you don’t have to be the spokesman and/or spokeswoman on racial topics. This means you do not always have to be picked first to begin discussion about these topics. You can pass along the baton to start discussion about racial issues since the overall situation is two-sided and not just one. Yet with that being said, speak out when you see things occurring that are problematic to you, your community, and your culture. Your culture and your community are you, thus bring forth solutions to problems and bring knowledge to things that are unseen or not touched upon.
3. Be Authentic
As college is one of the biggest transitional events in one’s life, one thing to remember is be true to yourself. Do not try to fit in with the crowd (majority) if that’s not you being authentic. There have been stories of students not listening to their favorite music genres and avoiding friendships with other students of color because they don’t want to be misunderstood by other students. Furthermore, the majority may question why the minority does something (this may just be hinted or be fully directed at you). An example is someone saying that they always wash their hair (subtle) or ask you why you don’t wash your hair everyday (direct) and instead of explaining yourself, you wash your hair everyday. What you should do is respond by informing the person(s) that your hair is different and thus needing different treatment. Being authentic is the best way for anyone to feel comfortable where they are so we have to love ourselves. From a The Root article, Lauren Whiteman, the assistant director of African-American Student Life at the University of Oklahoma, said it best: “Learn to love yourself in a space that will call everything about you into question,” she said. “Your melanated skin, your kinky and curly hair, your food and your traditions, are all a part of who you are. Embracing them can help you live your and be fully yourself.”
4. Support Yourself
Find support services that can make your experience at your PWI smoother, such as clubs and faculty members. Speaking from experience from attending two PWIs- Rider University and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ)- within the past two years, it is challenging and might be a culture shock to most. PWIs usually have organizations for black and African-American students. For example, both schools have Black Student Unions (BSUs) which aid to the growth of students of the African Diaspora into culturally, socially, intellectually, and psychologically agents equipped to promote positive change and engagement within their communities. At both institutions, blacks have made up less than 11% of the student body- about 5% at Rider (with about 4300 students) and about 10 % at TCNJ (with about 6700 students), respectively. Clubs like this one, and similar, are often organized and managed by black students in which the minorities go to these events usually to connect with other students who have similar experiences on campus.
In addition to extracurricular activities, faculty is a good support group. Having and seeing faculty members that racial identify with you is more beneficial. Here at TCNJ, there are a little more than 1650 faculty/staff while about 12% are black and at Rider there are about 2300 faculty/staff while only 5% are black. Don’t feel scared to reach out to faculty of color either in your field or just because they are a colored face. They will most likely understand your reason for contact.
5. Diversity is Key
Diversity sums up the preparation to attending a PWI. By listening to the different perspective in addition to speaking out and being yourself, don’t close yourself off. For the majority to understand the problems within this epidemic, we need diversity so others actually are willing to understand the problems black students refer to, such as institutional racism and white privilege. From my own experience, the people in the majority that appreciate diversity understand the underlying problems of America through “black eyes”.