Over the summer, my sister was invited to participate in a program geared toward young entrepreneurs. Although she never considered business as a career path, I, being the persuasive older sister, convinced her to go. After a few days, I get a phone call and I can tell that something is not right. Her usual loud, sassy tone riddled with bits and pieces of sarcasm was reduced to a quiet reticence that I could barely recognize. She proceeded to tell me that she no longer wanted to continue the program–that she had an “incident” with another student and wanted to go home. According to one of the program coordinators, one of the students was caught engaging in “racially insensitive banter” about my sister; instead of getting to the root of the issue, the coordinator assumed that my sister must have had a prior run-in with this student. After a two-hour phone conversation, my sister decided to stay the remainder of the program. She returned with stories of how her kinky, natural hair attracted stares from other girls in her hall–stories of how mentioning her high school resulted in sly comments such as “Oh wow, so-and-so high school? Great students! This program provides a lot of scholarships to you guys.” Most importantly, she returned home with not only a certificate of completion, but also a sense of what her fast-approaching college experience may hold.
My sister’s experience was just a snapshot of one of the many experiences people of color have in PWI’s. By saying so, I have no intention of reducing the diverse experiences of minority students in college to just the unpleasant ones; however, I cannot help but recognize an underlying similarity in the diversity, when it comes to how students of color are integrated into PWI’s. With that being said, being at Emory has definitely sparked in me a double-consciousness. It has made me increasingly cognizant of the many facets of myself and how they fit (or don’t fit) into the different aspects of my life as a Black, female student at a PWI. Being forced to switch in and out of my comfort zone and adapt to the unfamiliar has made me realize that self-awareness does not only mean to be aware of oneself, but to be aware of multiple selves. It means to be aware that the “self” that exists in the classroom, the “self” that exists in your friend group(s), and the “self” that exists when you are by yourself in your dorm room, all play important roles in shaping your experiences as a college student. Sometimes being in a college environment as a person of color can be an overwhelming experience. There are those days when it seems like there is no space at higher institutions for me, or people who look like me. However, from those days sprout the need for self-discovery and growth, and the hope that this journey was all worth it in the end.
You are young, gifted, and Black. There's a world waiting for you. Yours is the quest that's just begun.
By: Jessica Isibor, Staff Writer