How to Survive as a Black Student at a PWI

I’m not sure why this topic was on my mind, besides the obvious, but I thought it’d be cool to tackle it. By the way PWI= predominately white institution. HBCU= a historical black college and university

Disclaimer: This is not any shade directed at my school, Saint Joseph’s University. It’s just based on experiences on/off campus. Some of these are humorous; some ironic; and some are serious. If any one is offended, it’s most likely just a coincidence, as that wasn’t my intent. I do not want to further the “us vs. them” mentality.

Here it goes:

  1. There’s a high possibility that you may be the only student of color in most of your classes. Keep your head up. Go above and beyond what is expected of you.
  2. If you are the only student of color, you will most likely represent your entire race. At least, that’s how it will feel when a professor calls on you to gain perspective from someone of your race.
  3. Try not to get too angry at people who randomly try to touch your hair. You’ve been blessed with a wonderful hair texture. If anything, return the favor. Be aware though, that your hand may come out covered in styling gel and hair mousse, though.
  4. Be ready to be made into the perpetrator, even when you are the victim.
  5. Don’t expect other people of color to relate to you or want to befriend. While you would like to think that people would be comfortable speaking with others who look like you, you will be sadly disappointed when they look down on you as ghetto and rachet.
  6. Save up for a mansion by putting a nickel away every time someone says “race doesn’t matter”.
  7. You may have to censor yourself. If you post too much “black stuff” online, you’ll be deemed racists. If you’re too opinionated, you’ll fit the angry stereotype. If you’re too laid back, you’re deemed lazy.
  8. Don’t be surprised when everyone knows your name at a party, especially people you have never spoken with a day in your life. You’re a lot easier to notice when no one looks like you.
  9. The foodservice workers, desk attendants, and custodial staff all may be people of color. It may be hard seeing them in roles of servitude. Treat them with nothing but the same respect that you would your parents and professors.
  10. You might be asked how the basketball team is doing by parents on family weekend. You will assumed to extremely well at a sport. A scholarship for playing said sport is believed to be the reason why you’re in school, because a full academic scholarship is too hard to comprehend.
  11. Your face will be plastered on brochures and school advertisements. Diversity!
  12. If you’re lucky enough to have a professor of color, they will expect 8000 times more work from you than other students.
  13. You will be introduced to coded words like “sketchy”, “locals” and “sassy”.
  14. You will wonder why no one else gets as nervous about police as you do.
  15. The “n word” will either be used around you or in your absence.
  16. You will always be “cute for a (insert ethnicity) guy/girl”
  17. Even after endless amounts of  time styling your hair, it will still be “nappy
  18. You won’t be familiar with certain social situations. Learn to be.
  19. Pretend beer doesn’t taste like piss.
  20. Learn as much country music as you can, if you don’t have vast knowledge already
  21. Make friends outside of the people of color because if not, it will be assumed that “they all just hang together.”
  22. Try your hardest to learn another language.
  23. If presented with the opportunity, study abroad. There’s more to life than the city yo lunwere born in.
  24. Always dress as if everyday is a fashion show. You can never be caught slipping.
  25. Don’t be shocked when your suitemate and some other people you know berate the their parents on the phone or call them by their first name
  26. Be on time always.
  27. Don’t get a tattoo/piercing, wear any unique hairstyles, or dye your hair a unique color. You won’t be edgy or groundbreaking, just ratchet.
  28. Your name may be mispronounced. Correct people every single time.
  29. Find a store that sells your specific “ethnic” necessities.
  30. Don’t be mad when out-of-state students call your hometown a ghetto. Even if your campus is the most beautiful inside the city, it’s only because it’s surrounded by a bubble, right?
  31. You’ll probably be confused for someone else of your racial background for something as simple as having a sinilar haircut. You might also fit the description of the perpetrators (from the city) of crime against students reported to public safety.
  32. Endulge in some of the higher-end food items your school cafeteria offers. NEVER eat the fried chicken.
  33. Call your mom often. You want to keep the communication with family and friends as open as possible, so they can provide support.
  34. Don’t stress over finances. However, go to the financial aid office as many times as necessary to assure your finances are straight. The last thing you need is an unexpected hold on your account the day you register for classes.
  35. Finally, love and value yourself and your peers. I’m still struggling with this part. Don’t dim your light, because it shines bright. Don’t let anyone bring you out of your character. You are just as qualified as your peers. Don’t get stuck in fantasizing over what life would be like had you gone to an HBCU. You are here for a reason. When facing negativity, answer with kindness, as to not throw off your spirit. However, demand the respect that you deserve. Never tilt your head down or else your crown will fall. Realize that your journey is just beginning, and don’t be afraid to step into greatness. You are positively setting the example for those who will come behind you. Your life matters. If no one else does, I love you. May you be succesful in all that you do.

Author: Kobi Elliot

Kobi. 25. College grad. Philly native. Ghanian-American. Creative

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