Entering college for the first time will always prompt change and struggle, but what does this entail specifically for a student of color on a predominantly white campus?
Marie Beecham, junior in pre-business, shares her story of being a person of color in mainly white areas.
“I grew up in Ankeny, Iowa, which is a very white city,” Beecham said. “I was always the only black girl in the class and my family was always the only black family that everyone knew, which puts a lot of pressure on you to represent your whole race.”
Beecham expressed her excitement to enter Iowa State’s campus in hopes of finding more diversity. While Iowa State was definitely more diverse than her home town of Ankeny, she was still disappointed to find herself being the only black girl in most of her classes here on campus.
“I would look around and wouldn’t see anyone that looked like me, or I would still be the one minority speaking for all minorities in a class discussion,” said Beecham. “I remember moving in and waiting to see if any other people of color would move into my hall, and only a couple did.”
While she feels out of place in most classroom settings, Beecham is grateful for the George Washington Carver scholarship program, a scholarship class she got to participate in weekly with other students of color.
“I sort of had a built-in community in a classroom,” said Beecham. “We talked weekly about identity and race and being surrounded by white people and oppression, so I was really fortunate to have that built-in community.”
Beecham gave other insights on how to find your place on a predominantly white campus as a person of color.
“Find clubs and organizations where you can surround yourself with people who will validate how you’re feeling, and understand how you’re feeling and uplift you and also work alongside you to make it a more inclusive campus,” Beecham said. “And with that also look for white allies in friends and in faculty.”
Beecham mentioned the first teacher of color she’s ever had was at Iowa State, and that they became a mentor for her.
"You can find mentors who relate to you and you can also find mentors who are allies and have some sort of understanding of the fact that what you’re going through is difficult,” Beecham said.
Julissa Garcia, senior in journalism and mass communications, is a student of color at Iowa State who grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago, a very diverse area.
Garcia explained how the difference between Iowa State and her diverse hometown was a culture shock to her.
“Being at a university with predominantly white students was really hard to maneuver because I always felt kind of lost and I just felt like I never really belonged,” Garcia said.
Garcia felt a lack of guidance at Iowa State and worried that she wouldn’t find her place as a Latina woman on campus.
“I just feel like there’s not enough guidance for students of color here at Iowa State. The recruiting officers always really want to diversify their populations at their universities, but once those students are there it’s kind of like their importance or recognition is diminished,” Garcia said. “It’s kind of like, ‘we got you here, okay, that's all we wanted’; I feel like a lot of students are lost because they don’t have that guidance to continue on.”
After her first semester at Iowa State, Garcia went home for winter break and came back to campus feeling refreshed and motivated.
“When I came back Spring semester I kind of felt refreshed, like I wanted to speak up more about this or join activist groups or just know that I’m not alone,” Garcia said. “I’m better now, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still a problem there.”
Garcia wanted to find a place where her culture was understood and expressed by others, a community on campus that felt like home.
“Because I grew up with people who were diverse, or just students of color, being here I felt like my identity wasn’t known,” Garcia said.
Garcia found her place on campus through a friend in the multicultural sorority, Lambda Theta Alpha, a sorority with goals focused on community and political activism, according to the Iowa State Sorority and Fraternity Engagement website.
“I feel like I was finding myself, like, ‘who do I want to be?’ […] I found my place and there were finally people I could relate to and I even […] felt like I joined a larger community outside of my sorority and made other friends from other organizations in general who related to me,” Garcia said.
Garcia also mentioned Latinx Student Initiatives as a group that helped her find a community of students of color on campus, which gave her that sense of belonging. She mentioned their beginning of the school year retreat and how positively it could affect incoming students of color.
“I feel like that’s a really good opportunity for students who identify as Latinx, something to know that they’re in a community and they have people that relate to them. I didn’t go until my sophomore year […] If I went my freshman year I would’ve found more of a sense of community,” Garcia said.
The multicultural student association on campus at Iowa State was also a very beneficial community for Garcia.
“That’s where I would see other students of color, so it’s really cool to be in an environment where there are other people like the type of people you grew up with,” Garcia said.
While Beecham and Garcia have both found a sense of belonging in the community on Iowa State’s campus as students of color, they recognize that Iowa State and campuses nationwide have yet to solve the issue of a lack of diversity and inclusion.