What It's Like Being a Minority at a PWI

Being a minority at a predominantly white institution (PWI) can feel like being a gnat in a bowl of milk. Every time I turned my head, I would desperately search for another black face in the sea of white known as Rhodes College. Although I love Rhodes with all my heart and have made lifelong (hopefully) bonds with the people here, it still didn’t quite feel like home. As a black woman, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, though. According to Forbes, Caucasian students accounted for 71.6% of the student body during the 2017-2018 school year with the other seven demographics remaining making up the other 28.4%.

Throughout my freshman year, I struggled with feelings of imposter syndrome. The lack of black and brown faces on campus already made me feel as though I was lucky to even set foot on its grounds. I felt as though I didn’t deserve my spot at Rhodes and that it was only given to me because of my African-American heritage. As a result, my academic growth was greatly hindered. Any “A” I received I attributed to professors needing to maintain a quota, and every B (or occasional C) was confirmation that I didn’t belong. Class discussions were a large source of my anxiety. I worried whether my contributions would measure up to those of my white peers and whether the little I did contribute confirmed the negative stereotypes that they already had about me and the other black students on campus. Every action, every opinion, and every sentiment I had felt like a political statement. 

Things weren’t much better in the social arena either. Coming from a different ethnic background and socioeconomic status than the majority of the Rhodes demographic proved to be a significant barrier to making friends. Although there were exceptions to this, most people I attempted to interact with couldn’t understand why I couldn’t quit one of the two jobs I had or why I couldn’t go out to that Friday night party. The lack of social interaction dampened my mood, and made me feel lonelier than ever. 

Thankfully, regardless of being one of the few black students on campus, I was able to make the most of my experience at Rhodes College. Instead of bonding with people at parties, I bonded with them over my love of community service and exercise. I found a tight-knit group of friends that have been there for me through thick and thin. The only regret I have from my freshman year is not joining a NPHC sorority, Rhodes’s BSA, A.W.S.O.M.E, or S.O.S., which are all great resources for any minority student navigating the rocky waters of a PWI. 

To all my fellow black and brown students – it does get better! Although it can be lonely at times, finding the right organizations, friends, and resources make being a minority on campus so much easier. 

Remember that if you ever need to report a bias-related incident, the information can be found on the Rhodes Express page.