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Navigating Through a PWI as a Black Woman

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at TCNJ chapter.

My experience here at TCNJ has not been the easiest, but it also hasn’t been the worst. If someone had to ask me what my least favorite thing is about attending a PWI, it’s being a Black woman with little to no community. There’s but so many microaggressions and passive aggressive comments one person can take. Quick disclaimer, this isn’t me crapping on TCNJ or the students who go here because. as I’ve previously stated, it hasn’t been the worst. I’ve met some incredible people along the way who have made me smile and who have helped me enjoy my time here, but I’ve noticed that Black women have a shared struggle attending a PWI, and that’s something that I wanted to express my opinion on. 

Attending a new school and making new friends is already a struggle on its own, especially if you’re going in without people you’ve known prior. Add being an introvert to that equation and it’s already a recipe for disaster. For me personally, when I first came to TCNJ I experienced a hard hitting case of culture shock, so I wasn’t sure of where I fit in, and because this campus is small, it felt like once people established who was a part of their circle, it was kind of hard to infiltrate the group. Being a part of organizations on campus that tie into your identity could work, but if you have social anxiety then that option isn’t the easiest. I can recall so many moments my Freshman year where I wanted to go to every and any event, just so I could put myself out and see what the school has to offer, but literally EVERY TIME I got in front of door of the event, my heart would beat incredibly fast and I would start to cry because the idea of social interaction with absolutely no one I know terrified me, so I would turn around and go back to my room. 

Dating at a PWI can be a hard task for a Black woman, especially for a dark skin woman because colorism is very prevalent. It’s a known fact that even though Black women are the most fetishsized, we are the least desired, so coming to a campus where you’re reassured that you are not the standard, has a deep effect on your self perception. Always feeling like you’re not pretty enough or wondering if you’re anyone’s type. Usually everybody’s first pick are the white girls on campus. Even Black men, because they come from communities that are most likely predominantly Black, when they go away for college, especially to a PWI, their first instinct is to “try something new” and see if they can get a white girl to go out with them. Since Black women are the least desired, there’s an internal concern of always making sure we look approachable and less intimidating so people can sense that we’re friendly individuals. Feeling as if we can’t act our authentic selves because we don’t want to fit into our stereotypes of being “loud”, “ghetto”, and “aggressive”, even though that’s how people are going to perceive us anyways before they get to know us. Not being able to sink into and embrace our bad days because we don’t want people to think we have attitudes. Having a high libido but not being able to act on that because we rarely have prospects. Being self conscious regarding dressing a certain type of way because you don’t want people to think you’re “doing too much” and being afraid to express confidence because we will be perceived as mean. These feelings sound very outrageous and seem like they’re thoughts we’ve conjured up in our minds, but they are very true and very present.

When navigating through a PWI, an observation multiple students of color, not just Black girls, have noticed, is that majority white students live in their own world and bubble. Not in the context of individuals staying to themselves and not wanting to be bothered, but there’s a shared observation that many people who attend PWIs think the world revolves around them. The main example of this is when walking on the sidewalk, white people don’t like to move out of the way, they expect you to move or step aside for them. This traces back to years ago during segregation, and Black people had to move out of the way for white people, but apparently very few people received the memo that we’re not doing that anymore. Dealing with microaggressions is another thing students of color have to deal with, but it’s something that we are very used to. Despite it being 2023, you would think individuals would know what’s considered a microaggression, but again this contributes to people being in their own bubble, and due to majority white students living in predominantly white neighborhoods, they’ve never had to think about such things. They perceive it as harmless when in actuality it’s very harmful. 

I’m hoping a lot more people notice and acknowledge how difficult it is to be a Black woman at a PWI. The experience is definitely different for everyone so I’m not speaking on behalf of all Black women, but it’s a large portion of us that’s hoping the environment at PWIs can shift and be a bit more welcoming and inclusive when it comes to behavior and perceptions. 

Jasmine is a Senior at The College of New Jersey, majoring in Woman, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Social Justice. Her passion for writing began in elementary school when discovering Literacy/English was her favorite subject. As an aspiring African American Literature professor and Journalist, she loves to create writing pieces that shows the versatility of being a Black woman.