Welcome to college! The most transitional, challenging, confusing years of your life thus far! Don’t be nervous. Heading into college can be a little intimidating, even for the most prepared. No matter what school you go to it’s a new environment, with tons of new people, and new expectations. Heading into a new and exciting place should and does involves self-reflection, and self-awareness, though.
In your new collegiate world will you find yourself surrounded by people from all different walks of life. People who have different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, ideas, and stories. Part of the self-awareness and self-reflection process that everyone should undergo is not only understanding your own character, feelings, motives, and desires but empathy and awareness for those around you. And while most people reading this are probably nodding along, I’m sure you’re also thinking “that sounds great but also pretty vague”. How should people practice empathy and awareness of others? Where do you even start?
Where to Start
First off, awareness starts with you. You’re in college to learn, so start first with some self-education on issues and struggles facing minority groups and underrepresented individuals.
Do the Research
We have the internet, there is literally no excuse for not learning about what other groups face other than pure laziness. Read, search, and then read some more. See what different groups and people are saying they're facing.
Be Aware & Respectful
No matter who you are or what you think, be respectful of others. You can disagree with someone all you like but do it in a good manner. Be aware of trigger and sensitive issues, problems, optics, and context.
Sometimes the best thing to do is just shut up and listen. Recognize that your voice isn’t the only one in the room, and in many cases might not even be the right one to speak on an issue. Listen…really listen to others. It’ll make more of an impact than you realize.
Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
College is literally filled with groups, organizations, and people passionate about a ton of different things. Explore things outside your typical world.
Gaining an Understanding
Members of underrepresented groups face all the same emotions upon entering a new chapter in their lives, but often struggle with:
- Feeling unwelcome and underrepresented
- Community inclusiveness
- Identity development
- Lacking support and resources
It is important to be aware of, and advocate, for those friends and classmates of ours that may be struggling just a little bit more.
How to Support Others
Support & Advocate for Representation
Ways you can help all communities (LGBTQ+, minority groups, students with disabilities, etc.) gain and maintain representation on campus, is to advocate for on-campus seminars and meetings to discuss and unite members of this community on your campus. Part of feeling represented on campus includes the campuses awareness of the community.
Discussions and demonstrations hosted by your University are great first steps to spreading awareness and respect across campus, and reaching out to initiate the introduction or continuation of these discussions is a great way that you can be an ally for people in underrepresented communities.
Create a Welcoming Environment
If you are involved in student activities such as intramural sports or activity clubs, invite friends and classmates you know and those you might only know in passing to join. One commonly shared feeling across college students is the struggle to feel like they belong to something. Feeling a part of something small on a campus that is filled with so many different faces gives a person a feeling of security and acceptance. Members of the LGBTQ+ community, for example, struggle similarly when their feeling of community inclusiveness on campus is lacking. An invitation to come to play against your team on Saturday night or meet up and debate after class on Monday is a simple reminder to someone who may be struggling with the feeling of belonging that they are welcome, wanted, and embraced.
Talk, Be Open, Share
On a widely diverse, but oh so similar campus, it is important to remember that we are each struggling it fit in. One way to do so is to talk to each other! Be open about who you are and how you feel and be receptive and open to when others share with you about who they are.
People tend to get uncomfortable with things that we are not familiar with. Embrace your differences, and don’t be afraid to have conversations about them. Ask questions, give answers, and allow yourself to be open to learning about the culture of the people around you.
College can be a confusing time in all of our lives, and it is important to remember that everyone is facing the same struggles. Surround yourself with all different types of people, and don’t be afraid to address and embrace your differences.