Imagine being an outsider due to the lack of representation at your four-year PWI, or primarily white institution. Then, imagine being congratulated on a nonexistent athletic scholarship because that was how you got into an institution.
Imagine feeling like a castaway while those around you feel at home.
I didn’t have to imagine these experiences. I lived them. As a Black college student with less than 3% of my own community to engage with, starting out at a predominantly white institution was a task within itself. While the majority was thriving academically and socially, I had to figure out where I fit in a space that did not celebrate my origins.
While I thought I was prepared for my college journey, I never imagined feeling the sense of emptiness that I did my first year. My lack of social engagement due to my imposter phenomenon created a barrier between me and success, causing a decrease in my grades and mental health. However, the summer of 2019 gave me time to realize that although systematic changes needed to be made within higher education, only I had control of how I would make my mark on campus.
Diversifying my narrative began with living by myself in a single dorm.
While this seems contradictory to my goal of being more social, I needed my own space to begin the course of self-love without shame. Although I had outstanding roommates my first year, I found myself comparing my situation to theirs and would use their progress as a gauge of where I should be, proving to be ineffective to my personal growth.
Having my own space allowed me to analyze myself in comfort so I could present an effective version of myself to my peers without feeling less than. This motif sprouted positive change in my social life, for my newfound confidence allowed for me to get involved in and create spaces for other Black students, producing connections that have validated my past experiences while also creating positive new experiences.
Although my social life thrived, my academics still suffered.
Walking back to my dorm with one of my midterm grades in hand, a big red “D” violating my printed words, I sighed to myself, “I study day in and day out with no improvement to my test scores. Why am I not succeeding?” It wasn’t until a visit to my brother’s apartment that I got my answer.
Sitting at the dining room table with my sister-in-law, I expressed my frustration with my academics. “Well, Cyd, is this something you really want to do?” she asked. I gave her a puzzled expression and responded, “Of course this is what I want to do. I planned to be a doctor during high school and I can’t change my plan now. It’s too late.” With a sympathetic smile, she asked, “Are you happy?”
“How can you have a voice without actually using your physical one?” And then it hit me: Writing.
Diversifying my narrative applied to my college experience and the rest of my life. By sharing my experiences as a Black woman, I’m giving insight into the struggles my people face to find our place in a system that wasn’t created for us.
Even with this newfound knowledge, though, my fear of uncertainty almost kept me in bondage. I didn’t want to disappoint my community by quitting or give anyone the opportunity to deem me unsuccessful because that’s already how society views my people. I began to recognize that I didn’t have to be a doctor to make a change in the world, for my perceived definition of diversifying my narrative put a cap on my abilities.
My true narrative? To become a force to be reckoned with in whatever I decided to do.
Although my passions stemmed from writing, being a writer wasn’t the only thing I wanted to achieve. My decision to stay true to my interests drove me to change my major and solidified my destiny to be one of the most influential Black women to live.
Although being an underrepresented student at a predominantly white institution still proves to be challenging, my experience taught me how to navigate a world where spaces are systematically designed to oppress the minority; to diversify your own narrative, you must create your own space within a space that historically isn’t designed for you.