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Being Black on Campus

By: Stacey O., Strength in Structure (SiS) Content Creator

Cognitive Science, Carleton University

Class of 2022

Being black on campus might make you feel like you're always under the spotlight. But there are ways to overcome feeling isolated. Joining groups and seeking out mentors are just a few of the tips recommended by Strength in Structure (SiS) content creator, Stacey O. who recently graduated from Carleton University.

Congratulations! You graduated high school and you are finally a university student! It’s orientation week and you're having a blast! You’re meeting new people, loving your classes, meeting your professors, and exploring a new city.

You're learning all of these new and intriguing things. But then, in the middle of your psychology class, you look to your left and look to your right. All you see is a sea of porcelain skin. With your darker brown complexion, it’s as if you’re a drop of coffee in a cup of milk.

Then almost on cue, self-doubt begins to set in.

Were my grades high enough to get me here?

Did they admit me to fulfill a diversity quota?

How do I fit in when I stand out?

Being a Black student on campus can be scary. But have no fear! I’ve been there and came out better because of it. Here are a few ways I navigated coming from two diverse cities, Toronto and Brampton, that have a strong Black and Asian influence, to a university in Ottawa that has a very prominent and influential white population on and off-campus.

Join a Nation or Culture-Based Club

This is key! When I started university, I immediately joined the Nigerian Student Association, and Black Student Association, and researched Black sororities and fraternities.

The friends I made in these groups have stuck by my side even after graduating! When you’re a Black student on campus, joining groups like these is a great way to be around familiar faces while still taking a step outside of your comfort zone in a way that is not intimidating. This is because it is based on a shared culture or nationality so there is an element of familiarity. And if you don’t find one on campus, petition your school to make one!

Find a Mentor

When you’re Black on campus, you may feel alone, but you’re not! It is very likely that someone was in your exact same position, thinking the same things as you a few years prior. If you’re in one of your classes and see a Black teacher’s assistant, go talk to them.

If you’re wandering campus and see someone who looks like you, go talk to them. If you’re in a class with a Black professor, GO TALK TO THEM! Ask them about their course, program, and their experience on campus. Mentorship is key no matter your culture or colour. Try to build and maintain relationships with Black professors, assistants and counsellors while on campus.

Locate Your School’s Service Centres

Many universities understand that there is a disproportionately lower number of Black students attending their institutions. Therefore, they have service centres in place to help students from minority groups find community.

For instance, Carleton University has a service center called Racialized and International Student Centre (RISE) which was essentially my home away from home until the pandemic started in 2020.

Not only are these centres great for Black students on campus. but they’re also great if you intersect with another minority community such as being differently-abled, LGBTQ+ or Indigenous/First Nations.

Be Yourself

Honestly, if you put yourself out there, your tribe will find your vibe. If you’re adventurous, join a rock-climbing club. If you love to dance, join an afrobeat or dancehall dance group. If you love random facts, join a trivia group.

It’s great to find community with people who look like you but the icing on the cake would be having something beyond your complexion that maintains the relationship.

Final Thoughts

In closing, to answer the questions at the beginning of this article: Yes. No. You don’t. You were destined to stand out! When you’re a Black student on a university campus, it may feel like there’s always a spotlight on you; but use that spotlight to your benefit – join groups, find mentors, locate your school’s service centres and be yourself!!

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