College is Great! Except When it’s Not: Some Thoughts on a Frequently Asked Question

The question: What’s it like being a person of color in a PWI (predominantly white institution)?

Franklin and Marshall College: A strip of trees leading to Shad library.

Tiring. A specific type of exhaustion that is part repressed anger and confusion at how this all happened. There’s a moment, it’ll usually happen during your first year, where the trees don’t cut it anymore. This image you had of what attending college would be like or look like disintegrates and as it does, you’ll look to the trees and the squirrels in an attempt to keep it all from turning less magical, but again, there comes a time when even the trees can’t save you. So instead, you learn to carve out pockets of reality that include you. You quite literally make space for yourself. You’ll want to ask for permission to take up this space your first year and even during your second year, but you learn not to give a fuck in your third year.

            Your counselors and various organizations won’t tell you that you’ll be exhausted. They’ll say instead that you’ll experience a culture shock, that college demands you work harder than you have previously, and that you need to go to office hours. But all of this is part of the exhaustion. The needing instead of wanting to go to office hours. The filling in the gaps your high school education failed to color in because they lacked the colors to do so. You realize when you walk into your first writing seminar how much purple you’re missing, and you go to blame your school until you realize that they were never given the colors to mix purple for you to begin with. You get what I’m saying?

            College, as it’s structured, leads you to this place where you can hold conversations with the different facets of yourself without feeling odd and yet, there’s an underlying tension between all of your parts and the way in which college operates. So, knowing all of this, what do you do? You skip class. You call out of work. Hold yourself in suspension, let yourself float in this way, and when you feel you’ve gathered the necessary energy, reengage this world of never-ending deadlines and readings.

            I guess, if summarized, it’s like learning how to breathe again. You enter college knowing how to hold your breath, how to avoid disturbing anything and by finding ways to exist in places like this (that weren’t really made for you and me), by learning how to exhale to say, hey, I too am here, you breathe.