The PWI Experience: Black Girl Edition

Imagine walking around campus, sitting down in class, looking around, and no one looks like you -- not even your professor. They don’t understand your culture and they don’t understand your experiences. So, you begin to think “how do I thrive here? Why am I here? And should I be here?”

Being around people who don’t look like me never really daunted me until recently. Maybe it's hitting harder because I'm a senior and I'm reflecting on the years past and dreaming about my future. Or maybe it's because I'm having an "aha” moment and realizing that, for a significant portion of my life, I've attended a predominantly white institution (PWI). Ten years to be exact. Personally, I don’t feel like I have constantly experienced imposter syndrome like most women in my position. But of course, when you're at a PWI and you're a Black woman, you have your moments. And recently, I've had some of those moments.

I’ve had moments stemming from questioning why I didn't go to a historically Black college or university (HBCU), especially considering that both my parents did. Or I’ve even had moments where I had to question people's morals because, while in my head it's not hard to be nice or have a little bit of courtesy when you’re at a PWI, sometimes white privilege and entitlement take over.

For instance -- although not outright, sometimes you can feel that others dismiss you because you're the only one in a room who looks different. It isn’t until you stand up straight, open your mouth, and articulate a well-thought-out message that they see your full potential. Or when they realize you're an out-of-state student who isn't an athlete or a community scholar and their brows raise, their eyes widen, and their mouth hangs open loosely with a slack jaw. Or when they ask what year, you are in school, and you say "senior," you are met with a look of disbelief and automatic congratulations, because not only is it difficult to achieve college senior status, but it’s even more difficult to achieve college senior status as a Black girl.

Being a Black girl at PWI comes with levels. Besides worrying about academics, there are days when you have to worry about your hair because you want to be seen as presentable or days when it seems like dating is a foreign language. And not to mention days when you don’t even want to get out of bed because you're so drained from the mental, emotional, and physical toll that going to a PWI has had on you.

From talking to other Black girls on campus, they had a lot to say about their experience. When asked what has been the most challenging part of being a Black girl at a PWI, some of my peers mentioned how it has been challenging to be the only one who looks like them in the majority of their classes. "I want to be seen and heard," and I don't always feel that when I'm the only one who looks like me in my classes, said one of my peers. One peer even mentioned how it’s challenging being a Black girl when classes involve discussion based on a white perspective. One peer discussed how it becomes hard to be in that environment because people expect you to speak for all minority students when you can only talk about your reality. On the contrary, when I asked my peers what they would change about their college experience as a Black girl at a PWI, they said nothing, because they wouldn’t be who they are without the experiences they’ve had. It takes strength, courage, and a sense of vulnerability to go to a PWI as a Black girl. You have opportunities that are afforded to you inside and outside of college that you might not have been able to receive if you didn't attend a PWI.

Although going to a PWI as a Black girl has its cons, it has its pros. For me, I've had the opportunity to foster lifetime relationships with people who differ from me. I've also had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and create memories that will last a lifetime, especially from the different organizations I have joined. I've been afforded opportunities and have had some experiences that I might not have obtained if I didn't attend a PWI. In addition, I've also gained incredible mentors and have had some astonishing professors. Going to a PWI as a Black girl is not for everyone. But it was for me. This experience made me unapologetically me. Not only did going to a PWI teach me to be loud in places where others thought I should be quiet, but it taught me to stand up for what I believe in, despite who might be against me. So, if you're a Black girl thinking about attending a PWI, here are some pieces of advice from those who have been in your shoes. Be optimistic when it comes to friendships and academia, remember who you are and what you stand for, and never lose yourself trying to fit in. This experience is what you make it, so try and make it an unforgettable one.

Zuri Thomas is a senior Strategic Communication major, with a minor in Arts Leadership and Entrepreneurship, at Texas Christian University. She is the Project Manager for Purple Team and was the former Account Executive for Pink Team. She is passionate about photography, music, social justice, and all things PR. In her free time, she loves spending time with family and friends, eating, and doing anything adventurous.

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