• Imani Jai

Surviving & Thriving: The Struggle for Equal Education for Minority Students at PWIs

"At schools across the country, from the University of Missouri to Ithaca College to Stanford, students of color are showing that they feel disconnected from their respective schools, that implicit yet institutionalized racism creates emotional distance between them and their white peers and faculty" (Steele, n.p.).

Today I had an experience that I believe I have way too often. I sat in my Hinduism & Buddhism class (a class of 30+ students only 3 black students in the class) and I said nothing for the whole 50 minutes of the class. When I left a class a wave of disappointment came over me, and I didn't know why. As the day went on I continued to ask myself why I was feeling this way. Usually in my other classes I will speak every time there is a chance, and usually someone I know will say to me, "Imani, calm down.", "You are doing too much" or "Let someone else answer for a change". But in this class, I was just quiet. It was not because I didn't know what we were discussing- I might have been tired or just didn't feel like it, but I decide to just chill that day. But why did I feel so bad for not talking even though I speak any other day?

The feelings I had caused me to ask myself, "why?"

Why was I shaming myself for simply not speaking? Why did I feel the need to speak even though I didn't want to? Does anyone else feel this way?

I came to the realization that I am constantly trying to prove myself in a room of my white counterparts, even though I might be just as smart or smarter than them. It is interesting and I wonder if this is something other PoC experience in settings like this. This act of getting so wrapped up in how the other people around you perceive you, even though you are in the same classroom, in the same college, you still feel the need to prove yourself to the professors and the random other students that sit around you in the class. Often times when I don't speak in a class of white students I feel as though they view me as "the random black girl that just-so-happened to get in the school". I have had way too many experiences where I feel the need to speak even when I don't feel like it because I feel as though I have to validate my presence in the classroom. White students get the privilege to not speak in class if they don't feel like it and not get viewed as "lazy". They have the privilege to "just not feel like it" sometimes, but this is not a privilege black students at PWI's get to have. We (black students) are constantly on our toes, having to prove ourselves and trying to break out of the stereotypes we get stuck with.

It is so fascinating to see how a white person's experience in higher education so obviously differs from that of a black student's even though the university is "trying" so hard to bring equality and equity to their institution. Institutions of Higher Ed have to do much more than just say they are recognizing diversity on their campus, but actually, meet the needs of the students that are making the school diverse. Your university's policies on inclusion mean NOTHING if they are not actively meeting the needs of the people who need to be included. Classrooms and environments of learning should be some of the safest spaces on your campus for you to grow as an intellectual, especially at a school where you are paying $40k+ a year to attend. Students deserve to learn, grown, and have the same privileges as EVERYONE else, no matter their skin color, gender, or financial background.

My Tips:

1. Embrace your differences

2. Create safe spaces

3. Push your institution to make a change!

SN: I think it is important to note that I am NOT trying to argue for the acceptance of laziness in the classroom. What I am trying to do is bring to light the mental and the educational privilege white students have and minority students do not. While minority students have the same problems white students do, they also have to encounter racism, stereotypes, and not feeling accepted at the institution they attend. They find themselves in this constant struggle of balancing "surviving and thriving" in the world of higher education. If you would like to know more information on this topic, check out the links below!

-honestly imani jai

Steele, Claude M. "Race and the Schooling of Black Americans." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 Apr. 1992. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Green, Adrienne. "The Cost of Balancing Academia and Racism." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 21 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

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