In late February, I attended the NAACP Social Justice Committee’s “Black & Blues” event, an open discussion on the adversities of adjusting to life as Black student at a Predominately White Institution (PWI). As part of the committee, I wrote questions for the event in the hopes of igniting a meaningful discussion. However, I did not predict the many voices gathered in the BCC Auditorium to cycle through the same refrain. A repeating set of issues were reflected through the lenses of majors, living situations, and socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Several students recounted the stresses of regular microaggressions, doubts in their academic abilities, and the casual discomfort with their presence in supposedly racially-mixed spaces.
While racial issues common to Vanderbilt and other PWIs are systemic in nature and rooted in larger social contexts, I noticed that multiple students expressed the personal toll they pay to remain at their institution. The event highlighted the need Black students have to engage in self care, whatever it may look like for them. Before I came to college, I had no idea what caring for myself looked like: everyday was maximizing sleep, minimizing work, and finding ways to squeeze in a social life in between. I didn’t spend much of freshman year combing through the fine details of my feelings of academic inadequacy, displacement, or loneliness and I didn’t invest in my physical and mental wellbeing. I was far more interested in the “cute” acts of care that populate Pinterest, like face masks, manicures, and the like.
My transition to sophomore year was marked by my transition to doing what I needed rather than what I necessarily wanted. It naturally looked like getting enough rest and balancing work and play, but it also looked like investing time and energy and my mental health. To deal with the kinds of feelings Black students expressed in discussion, morning affirmations have become a particularly important act of self care for me. Whether they look like prayers, journal entries, or silent repetitions to myself in class, reminding myself of things PWI life can cause me to forget feels like an affirmation of myself, my values, and my abilities. I enjoy knowing that at any time, any place, I can run through my script:
I am allowed to take up space.
I need not qualify my existence.
I belong here because I am here.
I am much more than the numbers on my transcript.
I am choosing my peace over the expectations of others.
I am allowed to rest as I need it.
I am my own definition of success.
While the affirmations you write may not look exactly like mine, make sure they reflect truths you already know about yourself. Focus on positive “I am” or “I [ verb]” statements that affirm both your abilities and your needs. Though you cannot always physically escape harmful situation in class or otherwise, have a mental game plan in place. After all, protecting your peace is an internal process as well as out.