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How to Navigate Life at a Primarily White Institute

People congregate in the campus library meeting with their peers to make a student connection
Creative Common|Unsplash

As a white person who grew up in a mixed-race family, I have seen several of my family members go through a lot because of their race and ethnicity. I was under the impression that once I started to attend university, things would be different since many colleges are seen as liberal breeding grounds.

I was very wrong. I attend the infamous Penn State, which is a PWI or primarily white institute. I remember calling my sister the first week of school and saying:

“Melanie, I have never seen this many white people in my life.”

When she came to visit, she thought the same thing.

As I got more accustomed to the idea that I attend a PWI, I realized that given that I seem like the “default”, it must be hard for new students of color to navigate life on campus.

However, most higher education institutions do have resources that can make life easier and bring cultural enrichment to an otherwise vanilla campus.

Multicultural Student Organizations

Student organizations are a wonderful way to make friends and get involved on campus in general. It’s even better when there is a large commonality between all of the members in that organization. They can range from broad groups such as Penn State’s own Latino Caucus to a much more specific group like the Bengali Student Association. This is a chance to share cultural family traditions, experiences, food, music, or even just how your day way.

Offices of Inclusivity and Diversity

First thing’s first, if your university or college does not have something like this, do not go there. You want a place where the administration is on your side if you belong to a minoritized group; and especially if you have an identity where several minoritized groups intersect. This is the place where diversity, inclusion, and equity initiatives begin or are supported and analyzed. It is literally their job to make sure campus is an equitable place.

Cultural Centers

This resource, though sometimes vaguely named, is the epicenter of most important educational tools and resources. They could have multicultural student organizations housed there, peer mentors to educate you on resources or problems on campus, and they could sponsor amazing events to bring communities closer together. Penn State has the Paul Robeson Cultural Center and it is easily one of the most underrated resources we have. They do so much amazing work, and if your college or university has this or an equivalent then you need to go to them.

Being White at a PWI

Do not, I repeat, do not expect students of color to educate you on the problems they face.

It is not their job. It is your job to see the problems around you and educate yourself. Go to the cultural centers and read the pamphlets and books they have.

Go to multicultural events. Put yourself in places you haven’t before. If you’ve already educated yourself, then be an advocate. Educate other white people. Discuss the uncomfortable truths. We can’t create a more equitable society if people don’t join in on the conversations and the actions that cause change.

By: Madison Starr




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