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On Finding Community

Poet Joseph Harris attended a Historically Black College (HBCU) and is completing graduate work in Education at a large university (PWI). Here he talks about what it means to be a student of color at a predominantly white liberal arts college such as DePauw. He is Coordinator of DePauw's Center for Diversity and Inclusion.


The key to surviving at DePauw is creating a community of peers.  If you are a student of color, having a community of allies will keep you healthy and focused.  If you have strong allies, no disappointments will be able to break you.

Choose your allies wisely. Look all over campus, even in places where you might least expect to find an ally.  Your allies may be young or old, similar to you or completely different from you. Find people who are about the things you are about -- who are inspired by ideas that inspire you or who are aiming for a similar major or future profession. Choose people who will teach you about the world, but also people who want to learn from you.  This will help you align the very different worlds that you inhabit.

Reach out to Black faculty and staff members. Even though there may be a generational divide, even though you may see the world differently, persist. Get to know them. They want to help.  They have your best interest at heart.

Self-care and Self-awareness

Self-care means different things for different students.  When traditionally marginalized, you're going to have to deal with micro-aggressions that may burst your pipes sometimes. But remember that pressure can do two things:  it can burst pipes, and it can create diamonds. Consider what you need to do to take care of yourself. Consider how to use pressure to make diamonds.

I encourage you to engage in student activism. But as you do, try to find the balance between never being satisfied and knowing when you won. Catalog your wins. It's overwhelming when you look only at losses, and even small victories have an impact.  

College is an important four years. Use this time to set up your 20’s, use your 20’s to set up your 30’s, and use your 30’s to set up the rest of your life. This is your time to make mistakes! Experiment with things! Try out new courses, new activities, and get to know people you never imagined you’d get to know.  Remember: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, find a different room.”