BE Heard: The Survival Guide for Students of Color at PWIs

I attend the University of Maryland, College Park. This institution did not admit its first black woman student until 1955. They have a history of segregation that continues to show even today.

At my university, there have been many hateful and racist incidents that have occurred on campus. This includes a noose being found, white nationalist posters being hung, and discriminatory chalkings found in front of the Stamp Student Union.

Many protests, walk-outs, and demands have been made to an administration that has overlooked these incidents when determining immediate and urgent issues the university needed to resolve.

On May 20, 2017, Richard Collins was murdered on my campus in a hate crime by a racist white male student who was a member of the hate group Alt-Reich nation. It took the bloodshed of a black Bowie State University student for the administration and the campus community to grasp the urgent need to address racial tensions that have historically been on Maryland’s campus.

This horrible tragedy is another affirmation that we need, as a community, to embrace, celebrate, and protect our identity when others try to take our humanity away; because if you won’t, they won’t.

As an African American student at a PWI, (predominately white institution,) you’re going to need to know a few things about how to navigate and excel as a minority on your campus. Many of today’s PWI colleges and universities have a past history of segregation, and it’s clear we are still feeling the effects of this even in the present—my experiences at University of Maryland are proof.

Here are some survival strategies for students of color at PWIs that I recommend:


(Image: iStock/Bim)


Dealing with the Awkwardness

If you sense the constant microaggressions from being one of the few black students in your classes, that can lead to awkwardness. I’ve overheard statements on campus such as “She’s pretty for a black girl”; “You don’t act like other black people”; even frequent use of the “N-word” at social gatherings by white students.

A way to avoid those awkward feeling is to join a black organization on campus. Communities such as these exist on college campuses and include the BSU (Black Student Union), (African Student Association), or BBA (Black Business Association).


Confront Negative Perceptions Head On


The classroom experience can be very different through the eyes of a black student than that of their white classmates. When black intellect is overlooked in the classroom and in the curriculum, students may feel that their work goes unnoticed or they are left out of academic dialogue. Sometimes, it can even seem as if their capability to contribute thought-provoking analysis to the discussion is questioned by their professor and fellow peers.

One way to deal with these circumstances is to address the source. Schedule a time to speak to your professor about the climate of the classroom and how stereotypes affect your comfort level and ability to perform. Get your administration involved and fight for your right to a learning-conducive environment.


Celebrate and Protect Your Identity


Many times when black people speak about their black experience they are depicted as complainers, racial slurs are thrown at them, or they are just dismissed as overexaggerating the persistent effects of racism in the present day.

National organizations including the NAACP often hold on-campus events that educate the community and make call-to-actions to the university to uphold the ideas of equality. Participating in events such as walk-outs, protests, and demonstrations are a few ways to boldly protect and celebrate your culture.

Speak up and stay woke. In order to cure the ignorance, we have to call people out on their discriminatory behaviors and thoughts and educate for a brighter future.