#DEEPTHOTS: If you are a Black girl undergrad read this...
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
I wrote this piece during the Summer of 2019 right after I had graduated. I decided to leave it as is - no edits or revisions past what I must have already edited last year. Here are my thoughts, Enjoy!
I thought college was where I was going to discover my purpose. My high school was a place full of regrets and missed opportunities. I spent the majority of my four years there overwhelmed, depressed, and always feeling like I was behind. I wasn’t stupid, but my grades made me feel like I was. I wasn’t interested in any book, any political figure,or anything really that my teachers had to say. When something did interest me, I was told I was distracted and unfocused. My mind was always scatterbrained about myself, about my next moves, about why the fuck I was even here. I allowed the adults in my life at the time tell me who I was. I believed them when they said “I wasn’t made for a rigorous school.” I believed them when I was told “Being a doctor probably just isn’t meant for you.” And I believed them when they said they did all they could to help me, and that they cared that I was happy because “that matters the most.” I believed in them enough to put my life in their hands. Only when I finally handed over my power did I see what others do with it.
They fuck it up.
I was stuck in a major I knew nothing about. I had the writing skills of a freshmen in high school. I had no idea school costs so much or who was going to pay that big ass bill. To summarize: I played myself. But I couldn't quit. I had too much riding on this. This was not only a necessary step for my future, but my family's too. If I was going to do this right, I was going to have to do it myself. My old ways of placing my life in other people's hands were over. College isn't that much different from high school right? If I was able to survive those angsty four years, I can surely excel here. What's to stop me?
It’s frustrating when people inherently think you are a liar, or that you don’t deserve to be believed. It makes you desperate to find anyone who will convince you that you are in fact not crazy. I had lots of people in my life who cared about me, or wanted me to be happy, but not many of those people really believed in me. Heard what I had to say and actually take me serious. People who help me develop an idea and not immediately shut it down, or who give me a place to vent with no judgment, or gave me loving criticism and also gave me the tools to better myself. As a Black girl in undergrad, I often felt overwhelmed with the uncertain. I had to be careful with who I allowed into my life, I was scarred from high school. I needed a new circle of support, people who understood how difficult it was to pick a hairstyle for a job interview, or had ever felt harassed and bullied by their teachers, and who knew what it felt like to not be believed and not be believed in. My search began at welcome week.
I came from a college with about 9% Black students and an even sadder Black faculty and staff percentage. It wasn’t hard to notice the difference between the institution sponsored organizations and the Black ones. A sponsored org had an all expenses paid for retreat, complete with catering, ice breakers, decorated outfits and cabins. The Black orgs shared rotel dip in our student apartments. We created our own agendas, raised our own money, advertised for our events ourselves, and we did it while having a fifteen hour credit load too. We didn’t have networks of alumni who were willing to cover our cancellation fees when not a single student or administrator would show up to our events and we didn’t have enough money between all of us to keep buying pizza. I ran for homecoming queen and won in hopes of being able to show administrators the stark gap of disadvantage between sponsored organizations and the predominantly Black ones but I found out instead exactly how institutions put the institutional in institutional racism. Policies filled with loopholes that protected administration at every turn, skilled PR agents to handle every protest or incident with an email and “personal” apology from the President’s Office, and relationships with politicians, corporations, and other rich white people who could give less than no goddamns that the annual Black Heritage Gala was about to be defunded. I had become the token Black girl, hoping to help get at least one other Black girl through the door but instead felt like a waste of space and influence. Was my entire life experience just going to be me screaming at people to care about me? To care about our communities problems as much as they seemed to care about football, or free pizza? I felt overwhelmed, helpless, and lost, again. What was my job here? How do you ask people to have humanity, to care about someone else over and over again? I went to the only people I knew who could always bring me back to Earth: my girls.
Black womxn to be specific. And you know what they told me to do? Get to work. We used our combined knowledge to host protests, to rally support in our communities, and to have our voices heard. If no one else was going to believe us, we knew we would always believe in each other. And just like that, I did find my purpose. I guess my teachers were right about something. Soon, I became consumed with helping people. Helping administrators find out why Black students felt disadvantaged, or understanding why the incoming class isn't responding to the new events for Welcome Week. Helping the Black faculty and staff find ways to help, interact, and offer resources to the Black student body and advocate for our rights. Helping my students find jobs, teaching them about sexual health, and dealing with their messy roommates or their racist professors. Helping out with bills and family issues back home. Helping out any and every Black organization who was underrepresented, or otherwise forgotten altogether. But by far, the largest demographic of students who I helped more than any other - Black womxn. I spent hours with other Black girls complaining about the microagressions we encountered all around campus and coming up with ways to make our concerns heard and respected. Having mini resume workshops in dorms, one-on-one graduate school application forums, using our organization meeting times to spread vital information, and creating our own group chats to discuss racist professors, and where to find free food on campus. We were determined to level the playing field and we were ready to do it together. These mini classes taught me more about the world than any lecture I sat through in class. These womxn helped me to find many passions, and realize my purpose.
So yes, college is full of lessons but not the ones you think. Sometimes your facial expressions will be seen as defiant by professors (even some of the Black ones). At any point in time, any part of your clothing, skin, and body type may be deemed unprofessional and "constantly" changing your hair may cause confusion. Being the President of predominantly Black organizations isn't as prestigious as being President of some honor or medical society. You could be doing everything right and still be wrong. But, you aren’t alone. When your bosses are constantly policing your hair, style, and way of speaking you know who you call? A black girl. When one of the most well-liked guys on campus rapes you, you know who you call? A black girl. When you have no options, no one to call, and need someone to come with you to get an abortion, you know who you call? A black girl. When your parents tell you that they disown you, that you are a fucking mistake, that you can never call again because you're gay or trans, you know who you stay with? A black girl. I have never felt more heard, more understood, more cared for, or more accepted than when I went to college and met the dynamic Black womxn on my campus. My sisters taught me that I am alive to help other Black womxn. It's all I did during college and all I hope to do after. I was reading somewhere that life is not consumed by what you live for; but what you are willing to sacrifice the most for. I will go to Hell and back over one of my sisters you can believe that. No one protects us like we do. No one cares about us like we do. We need each other, badly.
Fortunately, I was able to find my purpose in undergraduate: to help others find their purpose. Our brains are constantly working overtime and unfortunately we forget we are in fact: that bitch (shoutout to Lizzo). Born from a line of bad ass Black womxn who made the choice to get to work. Elders who lead revolutions being regarded as property. Rape and abuse survivors standing together to fight. Womxn who also had to hide an unwanted pregnancy, or were discriminated against at work, who were sex workers, who were gay and trans, who were also not taken seriously. They have existed in this life before, and they left us clues, blueprints on how to overcome. They left us maps, guides, books, poems, oral histories, grandmothers, sisters, aunties, friends. And I am determined to find them, for all of us. To find those keys, that precious advice, that can try and make sense of being Black and also womxn in a system of institutionalization like university. So Black girl, slay the hell out of college. Please, continue to be unapologetic and make everyone gasp every time you change your hair. Continue to speak up when goofy professors try to control you and your thinking in a place of learning. Learn to embrace and stand firm in your beliefs and what you will and won't accept in your spaces, especially that which is meant for you to feel comfortable enough that you wish to learn. Obtaining a PhD does not make someone smarter than you or make it ok for them to treat you like an underling. A lot of idiots have high positions and degrees, remember this always. Seek out those on your campus who either have a research focus in Black studies, or work with marginalized students on campus and get cool with them. They always have the 411 on money coming into the school that your organizations could use and while the student voice usually carries a lot of weight, having a staff or faculty cosign is always good.
The main lesson: I needed help to get through. I will always need it. Even when the bills are paid, the toxicity seems to be gone, and hot girl summer begins, something always pops up. And a Black girl was always there to help me solve the problem. Someone who understood where I was coming from. People I could always call.