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Intersectional Conversations: 5 Tips for BIPOC AT A PWI

By: LatinaChika


Today’s discussion comes from a place of love and personal experiences. As a first generation queer woman of color from a working class background, attending a predominantly white institution (PWI) meant that I would be the only in room that looks like me.

Of course, there was those few times in which I bumped into another person of color. The odds were even bigger if your major focused on critical race theory (CRT).

I wanted to share with you a few tips I hope will help anyone who may be struggling with being the only BIPOC in the room. I hope these help!

5 TIPS FOR BIPOC AT A PWI

  1. NEVER DOUBT YOURSELF
    • I think it is fairly easy to fall into imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades.” For me, being in a predominantly white university led to feeling isolated and it amplified my feelings of not belonging. The college town was also predominantly white and that affected me a lot. I had never been in a room where I was the only one or one of the very few. I was use to the opposite. And, even though, you are one of the very few BIPOC at school, don’t let that deter you from enjoying your college years, taking advantage of your courses and professors, and everything else is that you would like to do while in college!
  2. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF
    • One of the things you must always remember is to be gentle with yourself. You cannot be your own worst enemy. For me, I remember becoming my worst enemy and being very mean to myself. As first generation, everything was so new! I did not know what I was doing and I did not know how to ask help sometimes when I know I needed it. So, always be gentle with yourself. Don’t shame yourself or blame yourself for anything that goes wrong. Learn from it. Grow from it. You are doing amazing!
  3. FIND SUPPORT
    • This one is also very important. Support can be so many different things, but here a re few that meant so much to me. The first is familial support. As a Latina, my family means so much to me and we grew up very tight knit. My cousins were my biggest support group when I would home for the holidays. My parents were my support group 24/7. I felt very lucky to have them. The second is peer support. I loved my friends in college and a lot of them were BIPOC. They meant so much to me because we could have conversations around oppression and the university as a colonial project and not have to defend ourselves. We just understood each other and it felt so good just to be validated and heard. Lastly, faculty support is a good one. Although, not all faculty will be open to this, finding one that wants to support you can really improve your attitude about school and your ability to finish! I had really amazing faculty as mentors and most of them were BIPOC. To be clear though, students and faculty of color were rare. So, having the opportunity to work with both was something I really valued and searched for.
  4. MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
    • This is still a type of support, but I felt it deserved it own bullet point and that is mental health support. Going to mental health specialist really helps. I spend most of my undergraduate years dealing with anxiety and panic attacks by myself. I had a really bad time and I kept telling myself it was due to my first generation status. I kept blaming the lack of knowledge I had about the university and how to navigate it successfully. When I finally found help and started therapy as a graduate student, I felt so much more empowered and I have been seeking therapy ever since! You can always end therapy when you are ready, but you can always come back and work on something else or the same thing. IT IS OKAY!!! It is normal. You are not any weaker for seeking mental health support. You deserve it!
  5. DEFEND YOUSELF & SPEAK UP
    • Protecting yourself and speaking up is something you MUST do. Do not let any professor, student, or staff member on campus ever make you feel unwanted or unsafe. There should be office on campus that can help you with holding people accountable as employees of the university. There is places like the TILE IX office which deals with gender discrimination on campus, this includes sexual harassment and sexual violence. Look at your school website and find out what offices and representatives are on campus to help you. You are probably not the only student going through this. You speaking up may help other students as well.

I hope these strategies for BIPOC at a PWI help and if you have any questions, leave a comment below.

Sources:

  1. https://hbr.org/2021/02/stop-telling-women-they-have-imposter-syndrome#:~:text=Examining%20Imposter%20Syndrome%20as%20We,they’re%20deserving%20of%20accolades.

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