I am now a sophomore at Duke University, and I know that this is the prime time for finishing college applications and sending them out. Many people already are set on where they want to go, while others are on the fence. College is a big decision, and choosing the right one can be life changing. So I have decided to go through a few frequently asked questions with hopes to help this stressful time and make it a little bit easier.
- What should I look for in a college or university? Many students go for the prestige, trying for the big names, like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and so forth. These are some amazing schools, but keep in mind that the brand name isn’t everything. You need to find somewhere that is going to fit you. Think about things you like to do. Find the places that offer classes or groups that involve them. Try and visit your top campuses if at all possible (some schools do offer some type of aid to get you there if you can’t afford it). I know for me, while the big group tours were fun with friends, I had to walk around the campus on my own in order to get a more authentic feel. I needed something that allowed me to breathe and feel comfortable. Look not only for their academic reviews, but look for their teacher reviews for classes you might want to take. I’d recommend the site ratemyprofessor.com for that. Look at student testimonies, and talk to current students. Look for the place where you feel like not only will you enjoy, you will be challenged.
- Should I take up a roommate freshman year, and if I do, should I select one or go with randomized? A lot of college counselors will vehemently encourage you to take up a freshman year for the sake of getting to know your peers and interacting. I’m not going to. Everyone is different, and come from different backgrounds. I went with a random roommate and while she was nice, we didn’t really click well and she ended up moving out in the second month of our second semester (not due to any drama whatsoever). I found out that I loved being on my own, and not only did it give me room to find out my own study habits and work better, but it allowed me to realized that my cleaning habits were not where I wanted them to be, and that I really needed to get my stuff together. However, I come from a large family and am used to never getting alone time, so any time to myself is amazing. This year I live in a section on campus, and I chose my roommate, so it’s a lot better than my old roommate, but that was after a lot communication about what we expected of each other. It’s not perfect still, but we are in agreement most of the time, so that works.
- Should I go with the major that makes good money, or should I choose a major based on my desires and interests? This seems like an easy question, but it is often clouded by judgement from parents, teachers, friends, and more. This especially comes into play when parents are helping out with tuition. They may feel like now you owe it to them to go and take up a major that is known to make a lot of money upon graduation. You need to go ahead and do what you feel is best for you, even if you know you are capable of the major that you’re being pushed to do. If you’re going to a college that is appropriately challenging you, any major you take up will be challenging enough. And you’re spending four difficult years anyway, so why take up an extra burden to please anyone? In addition, your major doesn’t stick you in certain jobs. It gives you access to some, but your major is only a small part of what your future career will be looking for.
- What about food plans? Will I go hungry? Food was definitely a big part of where I wanted to go, as I’m a foodie. I needed somewhere that I knew I was going to have good things to eat. This actually isn’t something I would worry about too much. I have always had the smallest meal plan because that’s what my financial aid will cover, and even when I ran out, I had friends who were willing to help me out, and there were a ton of events where I could score free food, in my dorm, with my RA, with my faculty advisor, and just around campus. Finding free food will become second nature for you, so I would go with what’s best for you.
- If I change my major in freshman year, will I get behind? Despite the fear of something going terribly astray in freshman year, changing your major this year is actually not a big deal. As a freshman, many people come in with no experience in the major they are thinking of. You’re going to have to take some classes and figure things out. Many colleges and universities actually require that you wait to formally decide on your major. This will help you get some of your basic requirements out of the way. College is at least a four year stint; some people finish faster, some a little later. Go at your own pace. You are the one finishing for you, taking in the information you need.
- How hard is it? I’d love to tell you that if you maneuver college life enough, it’ll be easy, but I refuse to lie. College and university, if done correctly, are meant to be difficult. They extend past the common core teachings that are solely given to students in America, and they are a time of questioning. This is the time where you can question your teacher, but it also means you have something to back your thoughts with. I read so much for class it isn’t even funny. But it makes for a more engaging class time and it allows for you to use the information for future discussions or assignments. College will be a lot of studying, but it will certainly be rewarding when you make it through.
- How do I deal with being homesick? This was definitely something I struggled with when I first got to Duke. I come from a big family, with my youngest siblings being under the age of five, and leaving them was really tough because I knew that I was going to miss out on some of their growing up. I utilize Skype and phone calls, because they definitely help. Calling them and letting them know that I miss them and love them is nice. My parents are very nice about letting me go halfway across the country, but we still talk almost every day, at least for a little bit. I just got back from visiting them for the first time since my graduation, so it was definitely a big help. You’re going to miss family and friends, but college is definitely going to be a blast if you make it work.
- Should I bring all my things, or just pack light? It depends on where you’re going. If you plan on going to school within thirty minutes of where you live, I would say pack light, because it will definitely help with move in. You can always go back and get more if you need it. If you come from far away like me, you generally have to bring more because you aren’t going to be able to come back home as easily. Some students wait until getting to the city you are going to be in for college or university in order to safe space. That was not financially best for me, so I ended up filling up the entire back of my grandfather’s truck, and it was hell unloading it in the afternoon heat of the summer with no AC. Usually in between the school years, you can find cheap storage with your friends to make things easier, that way you won’t have to take everything back and forth with you.
- How will I make new friends? This sounds like a common fear for many incoming freshman, but again, I wouldn’t worry. I came in with a few friends from the invitational I had come to at Duke when I found out that I got in. A lot of people also go to Duke Blue Devil Days, which allows prospective freshman to see if the university is a good fit for them. There are events like that for other schools, so look out for them and ask for financial help from the college or university if you need it. For Duke, all the freshman live on East campus for the first year so that they get to know each other. I know not every school does this, though, so don’t be afraid to go out and get involved in groups and hang out with classmates. Your friends will fall in line.
- How do I balance school and fun? This is something I am constantly working at but have yet to master. Duke is a fun place, full of parties and events, but it is crazy difficult, and you are not going to make it without studying unless you are some type of certified genius. I tend to make study time also fun by hanging out with friends while studying, which may backfire sometimes, but actually works rather well because they are the ones who can trash talk me enough into working harder (I run on sarcasm and trash talk). You have to find your study zone and take breaks. Study hard, get ahead, take breaks, have fun. If you have big projects spread it out across a few days. Having some type of planner is key. Overworking yourself is never fun, and you set yourself up for burning out, which can really hurt you. Take some time for yourself, plan things out, and let things happen.
So I hope this was helpful. I may do answer more if people have any more questions, because I know there are so many more questions than that. Let me know what college you’re thinking of or went to, and leave any advice you want to give for students looking to apply to schools.
As Halloween comes up, those who celebrate are planning out their outfits, making sure they’re party ready. But just how ready are we? October 31st is the one day a year that college students can truly let loose and be whatever they want without having to worry about someone passing judgement. But when these costumes cross cultural lines, it becomes not only disrespectful, but hazardous to those who actually belong to the culture.
Have you ever seen someone dressed in an “American Indian” costume with the feather headdress and the cute little beads and thought you might want to try that out? Have you been at that party where people walk around in sombreros because they’re Mexican? Do you know anyone who has ever darkened their skin tone for the night in order to look a little more “ethnic”? If any of these resound with you even somewhat, then you may have witnessed cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the temporary adoption or use of elements of one culture as a largely negative phenomenon. It comes in multiple forms, and often those who practice it are in positions of power that they themselves cannot realize.
But why are costumes such as these so offensive?
Racial stereotypes and slurs have are constantly changing and have always been up for debate. This is the land of the free, and thus everyone is granted their freedom of speech and expression, but this has not always been the case. In the beginnings of our country, not all people were free. It started with men with property, leading on to men without property, and so on and so forth. But people of color have only recently in American history have gained the same privilege. People of color weren’t even considered people, and due to long-held xenophobia, they were not only socially ostracized, but considered the same level as animals and made to work with no rights. Indigenous Americans had their land invaded, were infected with diseases, forced to work, and still not given basic rights. And it goes the same way for indigenous Mexicans. Asian people who came into America weren’t given the same opportunities as other people and scraped by to find jobs. These people, though they do have rights now, inherently have less of a voice than the white population. This part of the foundation of the white privilege that allows for these appropriations to take place.
Race and culture are different things, but they are much related to one another. One’s culture is the thing they cling to in times of hardship, in fun events, and simply because. Culture is more than just consumerism in any account. Culture is how we come to realize who we are. It’s more than just the food one eats, the clothes one wears, and the things they say. It’s the way you know that you have a community where you can feel at home, even if you don’t know everyone. That old spiritual that you and your friends make fun of because it sounds exaggerated? It was sung in the fields by the slaves who worked day in and day out in hopes of getting themselves a better part of the scraps of hog for the next big event. The way people have certain names that may make you giggle? They were adapted by those in hopes of a better life, or at least for a better opportunity for life.
If you really feel the need to do so, think of who you are hurting. Just because something may not be blatant doesn’t mean it is racist. By wearing these costumes and acting as if they are acceptable, you continue to perpetuate privilege while metaphorically spitting in the face of those who don’t have power to fight back. You allow yourself to be a walking stereotype for a night, continuing the subconscious messages that you have gained inherently throughout your life, and then at the end of the day, you get to take it off. It is impossible for one to empathize with the amount of oppression one has faced, especially in one night. The appropriation of culture for the night is a mocking of one’s struggles, diminishing them to nothing more than a caricature, while you retain your status as a well-rounded person. You get to retain your ability to be different, to be an individual while reducing entire peoples to tropes used to further push them down.
It is perfectly possible to dress up as someone from a different culture without appropriating one’s culture. It may take some research and looking, but as adults, one should at least have a basic understanding of what costume they are wearing anyway. So go ahead, be Kanye West, or Jane the Virgin, or Agent May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But if you have to step near any type of costume that contains the words “ethnic,” or “tribal,” or find yourself easing toward some paint, stop, take a look, and assess the way you look on October 31st this year.
When I write, or even just talking with friends and acquaintances about issues relating to race, I am told sometimes that I sound as if I have no role in the systems that I talk about, even going as far as to say that I believe I am above because I go to Duke and can read. Learning how I come across to certain people allows me to gain perspective and it gives me the ability to reflect and see if there is anything I can do to change how I spread information.
First and foremost, this is not meant to be the all-knowing site of information. What I write or say is based on research and experience, but in no way is my information exhaustive. My information can be interpreted in different ways, and does not always only applies to black issues. I love holding discussions and that’s why I’ve started this blog, with hopes to get people talking about things that don’t always come up in mainstream media. People are welcome to come back with information, data, and their experiences in order to come up with a better understanding for what goes on in our world and why.
Moving from there, it’s still important to understand that the systems of oppression that I bring up are very real, and no matter how much you attempt to tell me that your experiences have never been something where race has made a significant impact on your life, I am not going to accept those arguments. While I do enjoy seeing different perspectives, I am not going to entertain that while I know that I have experienced much more than what one wishes to diminish my life to. White supremacy, patriarchy, queerphobia, misogyny, anti-blackness, xenophobia. All of these have a place in our lives, regardless of your awareness to it. To take things and claim that one’s experiences are only a minimal thing only proves that much more that these systems are not only in place, but are working. We have been taught incorrectly at school that everyone has a fair shot if they just worked hard, and later on, learning that you are part of something that disadvantages others is very jarring, and understanding that no one gets out unscathed is a big part of moving forward and creating an environment where we can build and actually start the process of moving on. So I have compiled a few things to say in response to those who believe that privilege is not a thing and that they aren’t involved.
- Everyone Plays a Role: Nobody is without some kind of responsibility in this mess. Everyone plays a part in how we interact with one another. That does not mean that those of power have the ability to blame those who are oppressed for their state of being. They are in situations due to long term power dynamics being unequal, thus granting those who are privileged to get ahead to the point where it isn’t possible to catch up immediately without radically changing the way things are.
- Taking Responsibility does NOT mean Feeling Guilt: Often when having discussions with those who are privileged, the first defense mechanism used is to try to deflect the situation back onto the oppressed, often by exclaiming how the oppressed calls on them to feel guilty and how they don’t deserve to feel guilty for something they “didn’t do.” Not only do they completely ignore the role that they play in these systems, they put the blame onto the oppressed, which doesn’t make sense due to the aforementioned skewed power dynamics. Taking responsibility understanding that you are in a position of power and that you have to work to not only come to understand why and how these systems exist, but to actively fight it and spread information onto others as you see fit
- This is Not a Trend: Often times, I get people claiming that the Black Lives Matter Movement is just a trend, and that anyone who supports any type of social activism for oppressed people are simply jumping on a trend. This is not true, and it assumes that people weren’t doing anything for these injustices in the past. The difference is now we can highlight these acts through means of social media and technology in general, and they become something we can easily point it out. Coming into consciousness of the things that are going on isn’t a trend. It’s something that we should be happy that we have more people who can fight the good fight and that we have more minds working to think of a possible solution.
- Responsibility Means More than Just a Hashtag: When discussing social justice, it’s often a question of who actually is doing something. I consider myself to be an activist, but I know that simply putting out content isn’t the only way that I can contribute. I go out to hear speakers, gain different perspectives, go to marches and rallies, and try to get involved with the community. I do what I know I have the capacity to do. I also understand that my activism is not just a every other day when there’s a trending event. Activism means fighting for revolution, and one cannot just make that fighting something on a “whenever you feel like it” schedule. Activism is a full time thing, not just a hashtag movement. Hashtagging is good as you raise awareness, but there is so much more to do than that, and if you really wish to have things change, you need to be doing what you can to make that change possible.
This is something I will probably add on to from time to time, but these are definitely things that need to be addressed. Understanding privilege is certainly not an simple thing, but we can make it easier by cutting out pointless conversations. Privilege means that your voice has a chance to be heard, and when talking to the oppressed, you need to understand that the time they get to speak with you is a fraction of what you say, and you shouldn’t waste it by asking redundant and extraneous questions. Cutting out tedious and repetitive arguments allows for us to go deeper than the surface of race and its impact.