Texas Tech is a PWI (Image via Odyssey)

The 5 Tips To Succeed as a Black Student at a PWI

Being a black college student has its own struggles, but being a black student at predominantly white university (PWI) is a completely different ballgame.

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Being a black college student has its own struggles, but being a black student at predominantly white university (PWI) is a completely different ballgame.

The transition from high school to college is daunting for many black students across the nation. Whether you graduated from a multiracial or a predominantly white high school, if you’re a black prospective college student then the idea of attending a PWI can generate additional pressures.

“Will I fit in?” “Will I be the only black student in my class?” “Will there be other students who look like me?” They are all questions that arise during the transitional stage, but there’s no need to be anxious.

There are ways to maintain a sense of identity and community, manage microaggressions and truly enjoy “the best four years of your life.” Your black experience at a PWI is what you make it, and here’s how you make it.

Assuming you’re interested in establishing a sense of community with the black student population, joining a black organization is essential. Most universities will have a Black Student Association, African Student Association, NAACP or Habesha Student Association, etc.

The purpose of these organizations is to connect black students and serve as a cultural hub for them. The sense of unification sustained in these groups help students not to feel as if they’re just a number.

Typically, these organizations are student-led, and each president comprises what my university calls a “Black Caucus.” The Black Caucus merely aims to ensure the health of the black student organizations and the population overall. Most of their activities focus on the social, academic and professional development of black students.

Once you find these groups (typically on social media), get involved, be involved and stay involved. More importantly, you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there!

These organizations will likely welcome you with open arms, but they aren’t going to search for you. Trust me, I learned the hard way. Black student organizations also host events for every type of person to enjoy. Geeks, intellectuals, artists, athletes, introverts and extroverts alike can all partake in the black experience at their PWI.

black student
‘Once you find these groups (typically on social media), get involved, be involved and stay involved’ (Image via University of Washington)

Moreover, find ways to utilize your expertise in these spaces. If you’re a graphic designer, see about designing the next flyer for a Greek organization. If you’re passionate about social issues, try to get a program started to educate your peers.

Remaining active with the black student population at a PWI will benefit you socially and psychologically. Students with a strong connection to their universities have an increased sense of self, identity and quality of life.

More specifically, underrepresented demographics, such as black students, experience far less loneliness than others by getting associated with a cultural organization. Additionally, we have higher grade-point-averages, psychological wellbeing and retention rates in comparison to most black students at PWI’s and historically black universities.

Contrary to popular belief, black people are not a monolith. Black students, similar to any other demographic, have diversified interests, beliefs and values. I have good news: you’ll probably find them at your PWI.

Getting involved in black organizations and major-related ones will help you to find your niche. Making friends with these people can be extremely helpful. You’ll be taking classes with them and joining their clubs, so you might as well make new friends while you’re at it. Doing this will elevate your social life a ton, especially if you’re interested in cultivating a more diverse college experience while cutting the exploration process short.

Another helpful tip is to find black faculty or staff and create solid relationships with them. Having a university educator or administrator who knows you by name can come in handy.

It’s good to have someone in power who understands you and your needs in your corner. These faculty and staff typically work very closely with multicultural organizations on campus, so these relationships shouldn’t be too difficult to establish.

Unfortunately, part of the black experience at a PWI consists of responding to the ignorance and microaggressions of your white peers. As expected, white students will ask you cultural-specific questions that are likely to evoke a number of emotions.

As black students, questions about our hair, culture and generalizations pertaining to us get old. No one wants to answer the same questions to the same people when we all have access to the same internet.

But, these are opportunities to serve as cultural ambassadors. Educate yourself and learn how to respond to ignorance and microaggressions. Be aware of your university’s social environment and develop a strategy to maneuver it.

At an institution where the student body is overwhelmingly white, you’re likely to run into people who have questions or may not be aware of how their actions affect the minorities. Therefore, knowing how to respond to them in a way that will lead from ignorance to cognizance helps them, you and everyone else thrive in a more comfortable space. You never know what seed you might plant in someone’s head.

Being black at a PWI is a unique experience that, if approached correctly, can be extremely transformative and a great learning experience. Learning to succeed as a minority in a majority-white space allows for an easier transition into “the real world.”

Most corporations and neighborhoods are white and most of us will have to integrate without losing our sense of self and closeness with the black community. Utilizing these tactics in college will help you to maintain your mental and emotional health in school and life.

Many black students at white schools have a difficult time finding their place and end up losing themselves and their interests. As a black at a PWI, it’s quite possible to pursue your degree and be truly happy while doing so.

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Julian Randall

Texas Tech University

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