Brown Like Me: How I Survived at a Predominately White Institution
Looking back on my four years of college, it is clear to me that I was enrolled at a predominantly white institution. What is a predominantly white institution or PWI? It’s an institution in which Caucasians account for 50% or greater of the student enrollment. The university I went to had a 68% enrollment of white students, leaving only 32% of the student population to students from ethnically diverse backgrounds. This demographic breakdown was something that was easily visible in the classroom setting. I would often be the only brown person in a classroom of approximately 25 students. While this can be an isolating experience, I found strength in my peers of color and student of color affinity groups.
Crossing this threshold and walking onto the pristine college campus to begin my four-year journey was when I saw how white college institutions are. Not knowing my place, it was important to take note of the work done by Sheila Lozano, a doctor of philosophy, who noted that “by 2011, the U.S. Latina/o population had achieved a key milestone in higher education, becoming the largest racial/ethnic minority group on U.S. college campuses”. Realizing that I was a part of this group of students empowered me to make my mark on my college campus. I did this through claiming space to express my culture and not allowing the majority voice to silence me.
Creating a second home on my college campus was something that made me feel less alone on my journey. I was lucky enough to have a roommate that was also a person of color. She became my best friend and closest confidant while at school. While living in the dorms, I would play reggaetón and blast Selena (Quintanilla not Gomez) to make my culture and presence known. Doing this small act made me feel empowered in my ethnic identity.
It was not until I was a sophomore in college when I felt like I had a command of what I was learning and could confidently participate in class. I was enrolled in a class that I could actually relate to: Latino Catholicism. This class awakened my cultural identity in relation to my religion. Being able to participate in class dialogue from my own life experience transformed my academic experience. During the end of the semester, I was introduced to my advisor, a Latina professor in the Sociology department. After hearing her story and seeing the similarities between our lives, I knew I wanted to be like her. She was offering a class in the spring about diversity in U.S. society, and while I have never taken a sociology class before, I was up for the challenge if it meant my life would run in parallel to hers. Being in that class surrounded by other people of color, I knew I was in the right place and right major. It was comforting not being the only student of color, and being able to be unapologetically myself in an academic setting.
Maintaining my sociology coursework the next two years and being surrounded by students of color and faculty of color pushed me to be a leader for the Latinx affinity group on campus. Doing this during my senior year allowed me to validate the growth I have gone through as an individual. Being able to occupy space for other Latinx students on campus was exactly what my younger self would have wanted. Finding networks of other students and professors who were going through and went through my same experience definitely kept me sane during my college experience. Without them and my family as a support network, it would have been more difficult. Creating my second home, finding classes, peers, and professors who related to me, and ultimately being able to validate my experience allowed me to conquer the predominantly white institution and get my degree.