Choosing and attending a college
is a huge move for young people. It’s the place many people meet their spouses, lifelong friends or settle on a career path. For far too long, however, college has been a place where people of color have remained few and far between. In the 21st century, that trend is changing. Record numbers of blacks, Latinos and other minority groups can be found in U.S. universities. But minority students face unique challenges in college. Many students of color feel that their race isolates them and experience a sort of culture shock upon setting foot on a mostly white college campus for the first time. Sadly, some minority students have even experienced racism in college. Students of color can take a number of steps to make the transition to college easier.
Choosing which college to attend is arguably the most important step a young person will take. Students of color must take a number of factors into consideration when deciding on a college, however. In addition to choosing a university with the academics and athletics programs they like, minority students often consider how diverse a university’s student body, faculty and administration are as well as which ethnic studies courses are offered and which ethnic student clubs are available to join. Examining these factors before enrolling in a college can help students of color determine how well they’ll fit in at a particular university.
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Several colleges and universities have ended up in the news after students organized parties widely regarded as racist. What happens at such parties? Students have dressed up in blackface
as well as in Mexican garb or in Native American costumes to disparage people of color in the name of fun. After throwing such parties, students have apologized, minority students on campus have spoken out and administrations have organized diversity training sessions. Still, similar parties continue to spread from college to college. Is this a sign that young people are taking a step back rather than a step forward with regards to race relations? Moreover, how are students of color affected when they learn that their classmates have participated in events that serve to perpetuate stereotypes
about their ethnic group? These “fun” college parties have serious consequences.
Students and universities can take steps to reduce the chances that a racist party will take place on their campus. College administrators can adopt zero tolerance policies for such parties and let students know their stance in the university code of conduct. Leaders of ethnic clubs can travel around campus to let their classmates know why parties with racial themes are inappropriate. Colleges can act to raise awareness about these parties prior to Halloween, a time when many think it’s just fun and games to dress up as a member of another race. If students and universities don’t take action, there’s no reason to believe that racist college parties will ever come to an end. The students who throw such parties won’t be able to plead ignorance if colleges take steps to publicly denounce these events.
The transition to college can prove challenging for many students. For minority students, however, the switch from home to college life can feel overwhelming. That’s because many students of color say they don’t fit in on mostly white college campuses. Many students of color have never lived in such an environment before and are unaccustomed to being asked insensitive questions about their racial background or being one of few dark faces on campus. Fortunately, there are ways minority students can feel less alienated. They can live in a multicultural dorm, take ethnic studies classes, connect with alumni color to see how their predecessors survived life on campus and more. Making such moves may decide if a minority student graduates from college or drops out before getting a diploma.