As college acceptances are coming out, a myriad of students are celebrating and wondering how to prepare for the upcoming year. Most students focus on dorm essentials but gloss over preparation for going to elite and historically White institutions. However, many Latine students end up needing a talk before entering these schools as the effect it has on their health may come as a shock and discourage themselves from attending the institution. Latines enter these institutions with no clue how to navigate a drastically unique space and deserve more guidance and support than the average rich, White student at a PWI.
What Is a PWI?
A PWI stands for a “Predominantly White Institution”. Historically, these institutions have a general demographic of White students from the upper middle class or upper class who grew up in backgrounds that may have provided them with little knowledge surrounding other socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. While not all ignorance is a bad thing on its own, in the context of a PWI it can create uncomfortable, unnecessary, and discriminatory conversations that devalue less privileged students.
Establishing Culture Shock
As many Latine students in the US, entering a PWI can open you up to a realm of lifestyles and people that think and view the world much differently than you. Often, Latine students have to face the gaps of ignorance or awareness of White people through their errors. A myriad of Latine students may get mistaken for another Latine person on campus or receive several mispronunciations of your name for the first time in their lives. Due to the school’s culture, many students and faculty may play into stereotypes and make assumptions about your lifestyle or desires based on race. Additionally, as a low-income Latine student it’s much easier to harbor jealousy or hatred for your classmates because of the privileges many rich, White students have. Their terminology and experiences of yearly trips to the Bahamas may be something you’re unfamiliar with, but don’t belittle yourself for living drastically differently. The reality is that most Latine students, especially those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, have to fight twice as hard to get into elite institutions and deserve a seat at the table they fought months or even years for. While not all White students or non-Latine students may make you feel comfortable, there are still plenty of other people on campus who are willing to change when they make a mistake and relate to your identity. Lastly, separate moments or comments stemming from ignorance and pure hatred from each other. The people with ignorance who may make inappropriate comments with problematic undertones can be addressed in private and might actively change their mindset or future actions when their mistakes are communicated to them. However, communicating with people who yell slurs at your face intentionally may only waste your energy because of how ingrained their racism or xenophobia is. Limit this vital communication to people who have earned some or a lot of your trust.
Focus On Identifying Your Main Supporters
Naturally, many people flock to those they relate most to at school and it may be emphasized at a PWI. Currently, most of my friends are Latine or grew up in areas with the same demographics of my childhood neighborhood and school. For kids who feel left out from conversations that circulate amongst the school’s mainstream community, seek out Latine support groups or alliances on campus by attending alliance fairs promoting their group or search up the support groups on the school’s website. A lot of these groups provide safe spaces for Latine students to vent about their experiences on and off campus and help create connections between attendees and leaders. Try to go to several of their meetings or events in order to get a sense of the Latine community at your school and find out if it’s the community you relate to the most. Furthermore, I recommend going to other alliance events or meetings to expand your friend group and find people that are more accepting of you.
Find Mental Health Resources
Finally, search the school’s website for mental health groups or counseling centers. My first year at a PWI mentally exhausted me and I frequently turned to the school counselors for help. Take advantage of the school’s resources and understand that counseling can help you heal over time but isn’t immediate nor is trust between you and your counselor immediate. These aspects of counseling take time to develop but are much better than bottling up your feelings and refusing to get a counselor out of pride or other factors. Within many Latine households, we are taught to internalize our emotions and hide them because our families create unsafe spaces that reject potential moments of healing. As you grow older and become a PWI student, recognize that you’re capable of becoming separate from your household, its beliefs, and toxicity. Don’t be afraid to criticize your past lifestyle or let go of specific people in your life (if you’re in the position to) because you deserve to be surrounded by people who care about your boundaries and needs. Feeling emotions after and actively engaging in self-reflection is critical to remain afloat at a PWI or else you can develop burnout or a deteriorating mental state. Remember, the first year is the toughest mentally, academically, and emotionally so give yourself leeway and remind yourself that you can get to a better place than the mental space you are currently in.