Spending four years at a college or university can widen one’s perspective, challenge previous beliefs and opinions, and provide opportunities that help them succeed. However, this does not happen through academics alone. Specifically, for students of color at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) from lower SES backgrounds, these four years can be particularly challenging because, while maintaining good grades and showing up for classes, they inevitably face social and/or financial pressures that could deeply affect their academic performance; and they must learn to deal with these pressures quickly. These obstacles include microaggressions (from random students and close friends), struggles with paying tuition, and experiencing racism because they do not share the same skin color as their white peers. The ability to balance these hardships and being resilient throughout their college career is an incredible feat that should not go unnoticed, but should more importantly, be addressed in order to effect change.
When considering how students of color manage academics and social life, it is important to see how doing so impacts mental health and how not every strategy will work for everyone. For instance, in one study that looked at political activism as an outlet for students of color to combat racism and microaggressions at their PWI, Black students reported feeling higher levels of stress and symptoms of depression than compared to those who were not involved in political activism (Hope et al. 2018). Interestingly, Latinx students found this method as a useful way to deal with the negative experiences they had during their college career. While there are many other ways to deal with the pressures of being a student of color at a PWI, this example provides a perspective that demonstrates that not all ways are effective for all students of color. In order to have a successful college career and enjoy the experiences colleges offers to student, mental health plays a major role. Juggling academics, a social life, and instances of racism or microaggression can be especially taxing on the mind for students of color. To tackle this issue, the first question to ask is: What are effective ways in which PWIs can help all students of color become resilient throughout their college careers?