Growing up, I always expected myself to go to an HBCU (Historically Black College/University). I loved the community they encouraged and, due to how important I deem activism, it always seemed like the perfect fit for me. As I grew older, I began to solidify what path I wanted my life to take and the schools that had what I was looking for, and most importantly, where the financial aid was offered. This eventually lead me to settle down at Longwood University where only 10% of the student body is black. Struggling with my initial discomfort led me to have some takeaways that I will carry throughout the rest of my enrollment.
1. Seek out a minority organization.
When I arrived at campus, it was incredibly overwhelming to see only a handful of people who looked like me. After doing research and interacting on campus, I attended a Black Student Association meeting, and it helped me become aware of the racial climate on campus and what I could do to better it. It helped me to meet other minority students and educate myself on other minority organizations on campus that catered to the impact I wished to leave on campus.
2. You don't have to be the spokesperson for your race.
Being, on many occasions, the only person of color in my classroom created an expectation to be the smartest and most "woke" black representation possible; but, that was an unfair standard to set for myself. I am allowed to simply be a student just as my peers are without having to prove my blackness or fit the standard of the perfect "black student." I am not obligated to inform others on why saying the "N-word" will never be okay or why and what cultural appropriation means to me. There are so many examples in history, the media, or daily lives that should make it evident to everyone what is acceptable behavior towards people of all races and cultures.
3. There will be culturally insensitive people wherever you go. You cannot allow their ignorance and intolerance to change who you are or who you become.
Whether I decided to attend a PWI or an HBCU, those who will judge you and make assumptions on your integrity and character will continue to heckle in an attempt to derail your personal growth; but I know the blood, sweat, and tears as well as the odds I overcame to sit in the classrooms I had dreamed of since I was young. I will continue to grow and prosper and defy even more odds, despite their intolerance.
Granted, I have only been a student for a semester and a half, so my list will likely grow over time as I interact with more people and organizations. While coming to Longwood as a black student was initially jarring, I love it here; most of the people are wonderful and they have the major that I have dreamed of since I was a child. Demographics are an important aspect to consider when deciding what school you'll attend, but sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can have wonderful effects.