I feel like time has been working differently during these past several months, so it caught me by surprise to look at the date today and realize that we’re already at the end of February. Anyone else feeling the same way? Between work and classes, I’ve been quite busy lately and it’s hard not to get caught up in the groove of my own world. Right around now, however, countless high school seniors are beginning to get college decision letters and make choices about their next steps after graduation.
It’s a big choice, one that a lot of them probably have the same questions and thoughts about. I remember thinking that I would pick the wrong school or never make friends where I went, that I would have to suffer alone. Little did I know, a lot of us were thinking and later went through the same things. Especially the underprivileged and minority students.
Over the past two weeks, I have had the privilege to virtually step out from my little bubble at home and interview alongside about 30 prospective clinical psychology graduate students throughout the country. It was incredible to meet so many different people from countless walks of life who are all looking to pursue the same career. While we all came from separate backgrounds, there was one question the majority of my interview group answered almost identically, one after another— our answers are those I think would have offered some solace and maybe also lit some confidence in me had I known them going into college.
The question was this:
When was a time that you found yourself struggling?
It was a vague question, the answers could have had to do with so many different things like personal relationships, financials, or even family. When it came down to it though, every person in my group talked about the same type of reckoning: struggling in our transition into college to find a community that felt comfortable. Apparently, almost none of us had felt like we had a group that could see or hear us the way we wanted to be recognized when we entered college.
None of us had the same exact experiences, even while a couple of students went to the same undergrad institutions. Yet most of us were members of an underrepresented or minority group and many of us felt like we couldn’t find a place to be ourselves when we started our college careers.
It made me wonder that if I had known that a lot of students— at least the other students of color at Cal Poly with whom I later found my community— were probably also looking to build community and find comfort from the very beginning, would it have made me more comfortable? We say hindsight is 2020 vision and all, but I think it would have made a difference for me.
As it’s the end of Black History Month, I have to beg the question of whether or not that difference would have been enough. Let me tell you why I’m wondering this. After interviewing with all those other potential grad students, I also remembered something beyond the fact that we all struggled to find our communities.
Depending on where students go, they may not find the community they’re looking for. Sometimes—too often for students like Cal Poly minorities, myself included—they must build it themselves while balancing schoolwork, financials, a personal life, family, etc. From The Little Rock Nine battling school segregation during 1957 in Little Rock, AK to students like myself or my brother trying to find other Black students we related to at Cal Poly as a Primarily White Institution, the situation has changed from segregation to a “lack of diversity”, but the end result looks somewhat similar.
As Cal Poly’s acceptance letters go out and their diversity numbers look to remain low, students of color will probably continue to struggle to find their communities. Finding community in a new place is difficult, especially when there isn’t one already in place for you to join when you get there and Cal Poly as one example is still growing in its diverse student-run clubs and organizations. Over time, I watched as different clubs or programs like the Cross Cultural Experience were put in place as a mediation of the lack of cultural competency and community building, but only so many students know where to look.
Thinking to my interviews these past two weeks, I and all those I interviewed alongside could have chosen any experience to answer that question with. That being said, many of us, and especially the underprivileged minority students chose to focus on our transitions to college. We were starved for community, much like countless people are during the pandemic right now.
Still, this issue feels buried.
If we see that there is an issue with specific populations of students transitioning and a higher vulnerability, I have been wondering about what can be done to positively impact that change without diversifying the overall populations and systems that blog that diversity in the first place. Without diversity of thought and people, these conversations don’t come to fruition. Without diversity of thought, a lot of the same ideas get recycled, retaught, and reimplemented.
As high school seniors begin getting letters and decisions, institutions also have their own jobs to do. And so do we. Whether we’re in school, working, or doing anything else I think people have a hard enough time finding communities and it’s been more important than ever these past few months. Closing out Black History Month, I wanted to highlight this difference in educational communities and my Cal Poly experience as a Black woman, but this issue goes beyond myself and my race. How we come together, recognize one another, and treat people in our spaces is something we all need to be pay attention to throughout our daily lives.
I hope as you move into the weekend, maybe you’ll take some time to think about it. With that, I’ll leave you with all that food for thought and wish you a great Friday night. See you next week.