Navigating university as a minority student

Kezia shares how she met the challenges she faced as a minority student, including finding safe spaces, navigating the Black Lives Matter movement, and maintaining her mental health.

Kezia talks about the challenges of navigating university life as a minority student in the pandemic.

Video transcript

The past year has been undeniably difficult for everyone, affecting almost every aspect of life. And as a student, I've had to confront a lot of change, which I'm sure many of you can relate to. I'm going to talk about my experience of being a minority ethnic student in the pandemic and how I've been able to redefine my normal and adapt to change.

Navigating university as a minority student has its difficulties, but those issues seem to have been amplified in the pandemic. The main hardships that I've had to face this year have been; being able to find safe spaces, dealing with the impact of the most recent Black Lives Matter movement, and maintaining my own mental health.

Coming to university as a person of color, you'd usually want to take advantage of all the relevant groups, societies and associations, which foster a safe space for you to identify with people of similar backgrounds. But another thing I've dealt with in general at university is imposter syndrome, not feeling like I belong, or that I'm supposed to be there. But usually having access to these inclusive and diverse spaces alleviates this. However, because of lockdowns and social distancing this year, it's been really hard. Here are a few ways that I have dealt with these problems.

First of all, I have been active on my student groups attending the virtual events that were put on for us by societies and associations. These were really important to me, because there was an opportunity to listen and engage in discussions, and also socialize, allbeit on zoom. I strongly started to feel, however, that zoom was becoming very old very quickly. And most, if not all, society events were being hosted on this platform. As an attendee of the events also, as a host to some of them, it became obvious that nobody wants to go to five hours of zoom lectures, and then go to an online zoom social afterwards. But ultimately, I think that it is important to attend these events with an open mind because you never know what you might learn or who you might meet. For example, on one event that I went to during Black History Month, I met two girls in a breakout room, who I now talk to you quite frequently, and we've actually planned on meeting up but we can. So while I think the Zoom socials can sometimes be a bit long, I've never actually regretted going to one and from this I've made some friends that I wouldn't have otherwise met.

Another way that I have dealt with feeling isolation and imposter syndrome has been through joining networks outside of university. It was actually on a society zoom event that I found the Minority Young Woman's Network. We have various events and online group meetings, as well as access to resources for creative projects. So if you're struggling to connect with communities within your university, it's always an option to search outside of university to find groups like this. It just takes a Google search and some proactivity.

One significant thing that I've had to face this year as a minority student is the impact of the most recent Black Lives Matter movement across the world. This also concerns dealing with the spur of social media reports and footage of police brutality around the world, as well as increased hostility and racial tensions. This year has been tough for black people on another level, and we've had to deal with vicarious racism and racial trauma at a time where we might be isolated from our own communities. One way that I've dealt with this is by limiting my social media usage. While it's often a great tool to share and reach information, it can also be quite unhelpful and exhausting, especially if there's content which can cause secondhand trauma.

Limiting my social media use, however, doesn't always mean that I can't educate myself on topical issues, as this has been important to me as a way of processing sensitive information. For this, I've sought out reliable sources and pages, not necessarily relying on social media, but also looking at blogs and videos like Student Space where I'm able to read and relate to other people going through similar situations. I've also been checking up on a lot of my friends who might be facing the same issues, dealing with the most recent Black Lives Matter movement, and while this has also been good practice in friendship, it's also helped me where I needed to talk.

Something important that I have learned is that I'm able to ask for help when I need it, and also from someone that looks like me, I would wholey encourage anyone to make use of your university's welfare services if you feel like you need them, as there's so much available, which can be tailored to your needs. Additionally, though, there are other resources on offer, which you can seek out if, for example, you would like support from someone who has shared experiences. Student groups offer this, which is another great reason to get involved with societies and associations, like your ACS (African Caribbean Society) or like your People of Color Association equivalent. Again, one thing that I have learned is that support is not just one size fits all. And there's so much on offer and always people willing to listen and willing to help.

Finally, I know it's been a very strange academic year for all. But through these small steps, I have been able to make it a bit more normal for me and find access to support and inclusive communities as a BAME student from my experience of the pandemic, the most important things, which I have learned, have been how to reframe situations as not what I can't do, but what I can do, be that socially for my own mental health and wellbeing and about the most recent Black Lives Matter movement.