College is a crossroads of sweaty bus rides, desperate club members tabling in the free speech areas, and most importantly, diversity.
It’s where young people on the cusp of self-discovery and innovation come together from all walks of life. Yet somehow, we minorities and people of color at predominately white universities still find ourselves relaying similar complaints and experiences about student life.
You know what I’m talking about:
1. Entering a lecture hall, club meeting, or event and immediately scanning the space for some familiar shades of melanin
This is especially true when you’re just entering college as a freshman. Meeting new people is what college is about, but it’s a little easier when you can knowingly laugh with someone about the sheer mass of white people that’ll be sharing your class for the next four years.
2. Realizing with a deep melancholy that you’re the only person of color in your massive lecture hall
It’s especially off-putting for someone like me, whose high school was the complete opposite. Hey, maybe at least this way the professor will remember you.
3. Reveling in the various ethnic/religious student union general body meetings because of the promise of free food
It’s not only an excuse to find some familiarity in these new place, but also the biryani at the Bengali Student Association tasted exactly like the kind my mom makes.
4. Simultaneously loathing the dining hall’s attempts at your cultural cuisine
I didn’t think that you could whitewash curry until I realized that the bread I thought I was eating was actually a chicken breast.
5. Having your blood pressure rise and sanity wane when you see Confederate flags and/or any sort of MAGA paraphernalia
Seeing a red hat at this point incites an almost Pavlovian response.
6. Being the token representation for your ethnicity/religion/race
Not only do you look great for university brochures and tours, but you also bear the weight of representing an entire group of people at all times!
7. Getting confused with other people of color who look absolutely nothing like you
Believe it or not, hijab does not indicate familial status, who would’ve thought right? If that were the case, I suppose all y’all with the Guy Harvey fishing shirts, slacks, and chinos are related.
8. “Where are you from?”
Even when there’s no “from, from,” I know Tadworth wasn’t asking about me growing up in Orlando.
9. You want to clobber that one POC who has the audacity to say that something insensitive doesn’t bother him/her in a massive lecture hall discussion as if he/she speaks for your culture/race/ethnicity/religion.
When a Desi kid declared that Apu from the Simpsons was whimsically misunderstood rather than a harmful perpetuation Indian-American stereotypes, I could almost hear the groans of color emanating throughout the lecture hall.
10. Feeling bad about not attending all the cultural events that apply to you
Listen, I fully intended on going to the Islam on Campus events, I just let my laziness and sleep deprivation get in the way.
11. Becoming someone’s first [insert race/ethnicity here] friend
This is not so much bad, as it is weird. These people are really trying to tell me that they’ve gone they’re entire lives thinking that Starbucks nonsense was legitimate chai??
12. Feeling every eye suddenly hyper-fixate on you when something pertaining to your background comes up in lecture
I am neither a Shia Muslim nor am I Iranian, but please professor, continue to eyeball me as if I have a personal anecdote about this obscure form of theater.
13. Name pronounciation
I am in no way ashamed or embarrassed by my beautiful, elaborately Bengali name, but sometimes it’s just easier to go by Bob when I’m ordering cold brew in a rush.
14. That breath of relief when you realize the white person you’ve been getting along with really well doesn’t partake in the microaggressions you face every day
This is the bare minimum of being a decent human being, and yet I continue to be impressed by fellow white students who can understand the nuances of being POC in predominately white spaces.
15. Feeling like issues that majorly affect you and fellow POC are being either brushed over or not treated as strongly by the mostly-white administration and student body
Whether it’s POC admin receiving threats or students feeling unsafe because of un-American government policy, the promise of solidarity from superiors always feels a little forced, and entirely too superficial.
16. Being fetishized.
Being curious and asking questions about cultures unfamiliar to you because of genuine interest: okay. Sexualizing and/or fetishizing outdated stereotypes because you have a kink for [insert race/ethnicity here]: not okay.
17. Finding yourself a beautiful group of fellow POC to call a home away from home
It’s a feeling beyond comprehension to be able to find a niche that you not only feel utterly at ease with but can truly relate to through shared experiences that make you all so unique. You learn to own up to who you are.
18. Introducing white students to the wonders of POC events in a way that works to unify the student body
Bring white friends to cultural events in an effort to help expose them to an important part of your identity helps dispel any subconscious ignorance they may have not otherwise realized they had.
19. Refusing to allow the feeling of being small affect how hard you fight for issues that pertain to yourself and fellow POC.
It doesn’t matter that the march against the travel ban in my college was smaller than my theater appreciation discussion class. It matters that people showed up anyways, and that they cared enough to stand up in the face of an antagonistic or ambivalent majority.
20. Learning to feel emboldened by your experiences and unique culture
You learn to own up to who you are.