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The Verdict is in: Black and Brown Graduate Students are Profoundly Unhappy. What Now?

Here are some concrete ways for graduate students of color to care for themselves while navigating a dehumanizing academic environment —

Recently I wrote an article titled “Gradschool is Trash for Students of Color and We Should Talk About That.” The piece detailed my own pain and trauma surrounding my experiences thus far in my master’s program. I wrote the article for my own personal catharsis and much to my surprise, it went viral. The messages from POC grad students across the nation poured in with two overwhelmingly resounding themes: loneliness and a lack of institutional support.

I also received messages from white folks in academia earnestly wondering how they can be an ally to their Black and Brown comrades. If that is you then check out this link.

In this specific follow-up piece I want to focus on Black, Brown, and QTPOC students in order to offer ways that they can cultivate their holistic well-being while in academia. I do believe we need to have a serious conversation about what instutions can and should do to begin to address this pervasive problem, but first and foremost I want to prioritize and elevate my colleagues.

Below you will find a guide full of tips given to me by the brave Black and Brown academics that have gone before me and who have taken time to teach me how to take care of my body, mind, and soul in institutions that were not made for us.

You will also find some unique advice from yours truly.

  1. Be Kind To Yourself: You have, despite all odds, entered into an instution of higher learning. You are deepening your academic training because you have a dream, because you are committed to a cause, and because you care about your communities and the knowledge that is created about them. Your dreams and your courageous choice to pursue them by way of academia should be celebrated daily. We need more Black, Brown, and QTPOC folks in academica. You are a walking miracle. Thank You.
  2. Find Your Community: I have been given this advice time and time again. Out of fear, pain, isolation, and fatigue I was not ready to receive it until now. If you are a first semester grad student in a completely new state like I was, finding your community takes time. Give it time, but also be intentional. When finding your community absolutely seek folks that you identify with. For example I have joined many Black Graduate facebook groups and community groups. In addition, I also encourage you to expand beyond those communities into groups that align with your professional and interpersonal passions. What do you love and who in your area is doing what you love? I love Black, Brown, and Queer folks. I also love writing, podcast, and documentary making. To sustain myself I talk to other students who podcast and learn from their expertise. I also pitch my writing a lot. This may sound like work, but these are things I love to do, these things are my passion projects. What is your passion and who at your university or in the greater community is already doing that work? Find those people, learn from them, work with them, it makes a world of difference.
  3. Find Your Mantra: This has been integral for sustaining my well-being. How is your self-talk? Are you hypercritical? Do you degrade yourself? Be aware of that inner voice and if it is unkind, remember to check-in and change your inner monologue. Find your mantra, the thing your say to yourself after a particulalry long day of problematic class discussions. You are enough, you can do this, you are worthy, you are smart. I know that. I believe in you. I want you to believe in yourself too. I encourage you to take some time at the beginning of the semester to write some kind notes to yourself and/or find quotes from your favorite authors that anchor you and hold onto them.
  4. Binge Watch: Im going to keep this short and sweet. Find your favorite shows, pour up a glass of wine, and watch for hours. Major bonus health points if the characters look like you. I find watching Black shows to be extremeley comforting. Lowkey feels like reparations.
  5. Compile a Reading List: You ever look at a syllabus and think I hate everything? SAME. Whenever I tell other folks in academia that I am unhappy with my reading lists they always say, “Have you read this person or this person?” I always forget to write the authors down but I need to start so let’s go on this journey together. Reading authors that come from your academic and personal lens is a must, it is non-negotiable. Those authors, the ones who make you exclaim “yes!” will bring comfort, peace, and renewed self-belief. Reading Sister Outsider completely altered my life and elucidated that the kind of writing and research I want to undertake is absolutely possible because Audre Lorde already did it. Be intentional about reading authors that affirm you, you won’t regret it.
  6. Therapy and or Spiritual Grounding: I went from a public undergrad to a private gradschool and I fully plan to take advantage of everything this Univeristy has to offer, including therapy. Talking out your pain with others in your community is so important. However, they are navigating the same systems as you and though they can provide support, they must also sustain themselves. Be respectful of their capacity and look for ways to cultivate your emotional health on your own. Seek out whatever counseling resources your university has to offer, especially if they are free. For some folks, therapy is traumatic and/or their university fails to employ counselors that carry their identities (which is trash, but I digress). If this is you, then think about what spiritually grounds you and try to find a community, book, place, song, movie that brings you into a place of meditation and self-connection.
  7. Take a Break and/or Leave: Some people may find this advice controversial, but I do not. If you have done everything that you can and your program consistently makes you miserable, then leave. Your success and self-worth are not contingent on your program. I repeat, your success and self-worth are not contingent on your program. Leaving a program is an incredibly difficult decision and I do not suggest that you do so lightly. But I do suggest that in lieu of asking question like, what will people think of me if I leave this program? That you instead inquire what do my soul, body, and spirit need and is it here? When I called my mentor crying (a lot lol) at the beginning of my semester, she never said “stick it out.” She always said “I love you, and I love you whether you’re in gradschool or not. I love you and if you need to leave this program to love yourself then I support you and you will be okay.” This advice enabled me to relax and feel what I needed in its fullness without shame and guilt. Questioning your program does not make you ungrateful or weak, it makes you self-aware and in touch with yourself. Do not shy away from the hard questions, you deserve to ask them.

Please feel free to use the comments (this is not an invitation for you to write hotmess racist things) to drop any other advice you have for fellow marginalized students. This list is far from comprehensive and I hope this article sparks an on-going conversation for how we can support one another as we navigate this difficult system together.

Written by

Ciarra’s writing explores race, education, religion, and sexuality. Pronouns:She/Her | business email: ciarrajoneswrites@gmail.com | Website: ciarrajones.com

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