My entire academic career should have prepared me for what I would encounter here at Wake Forest – or so I thought. I went to predominantly white institutions (PWIs) my entire life, but I didn’t know the dynamic of the campus, nor did I know what would be waiting for me when I came here that fall. Everything was virtual and it was very different from how things are now. I had to navigate my way through a year filled with uncertainty while trying to fit in and create an experience that was right for me. In this article, I hope to give you my tips on how to navigate life while being Black at a PWI.
Being Black at a PWI means that there will be times when you enter a classroom and find that you’re the only person that looks like you; it can feel intimidating, but remember that you know more than you think you do. Imposter Syndrome is real, but you are here for a reason. To counteract these feelings, I found it helpful to get involved on campus — this looks different for everybody. My freshman year, I chose BSA because I knew I would need a group of people who resembled me who could pour back into me what I was giving out to the world. I wanted to surround myself with people who allowed me to exist as I am in the spaces that I occupied. It is not mandatory to choose BSA as the group for you — although I would highly recommend it — but you should take the time to try out different organizations on campus and find the one(s) best for you. As your time at Wake Forest progresses, those organizations become a home away from home, which becomes especially helpful as the year goes on and times get more difficult. Put yourself out there. I know it’s scary, but it’s worth it.
It is very common to hear people tell you that you will find your group and that you will find your place while in college, but that looks a little different when you’re Black at a PWI. It’s not as easy to just let things flow organically and hope for the best. There are times when you have to go the extra mile to make sure that everything works out, and to that I say, always be yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday life of a PWI and forget what it is that makes you unique. Always remember to never dim your light and shine in every room you enter. In addition to this, I recommend not placing a time frame on finding where you belong. Many people say you will find your group within the first few weeks and while that may be true, it is also valid to recognize that you may not have found your group within the first few weeks. You may need until the spring semester or even your second year to figure things out. Even though it may take a while, don’t limit yourself either. Get out there! Go to that event. Say “Hi” to someone new. All these things may be small, but it puts you one step closer to community.
Your first year of college is monumental, and that is not something you should diminish. You took the risk and put yourself out there to experience new things, and it only gets better from there. The road to being Black at a PWI is not always straight and narrow, there are bumps, unexpected twists and turns, and a whole lot of unexpected things, but at the end of it all, never give up. Keep trying with every mistake, misstep, or wrongdoing because they are all chances for growth. My parting advice to you as you embark on this adventure is to always choose your peace no matter what, and do not be afraid to ask for help or advice. Upperclassmen have all been in your shoes and know that freshman year is difficult, so ask those questions and take those chances. When it’s all over, you’ll look back on your first year and realize how quickly time flies. Be yourself and stay true to who you are. Create the path that is meant for you and enjoy it!
P.S. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or the BSA executive board, we are ready and willing to help you as you transition into this next chapter!
Guest writer Janeel Black is the president of the Black Student Alliance at Wake Forest and can be reached at [email protected]