Over the last two years, African-American college students across the country have been in the spotlight—the subject of activism, media attention, and reflection. The explosion of #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName is just one expression of that discussion, in addition to countless stories of success. The student body has been in the spotlight in diverse ways, from peak performance in sports and academics to age-related changes in identity, from transition to manhood to myriad other struggles.
Each experience has contributed to a rich sense of recognition and empathy for Blackness. Yet, as a culture, we haven’t yet held these experiences in the realm of shared wisdom. Most still view these difficult moments as isolated instances or as less than one hundred percent serious. They don’t believe that conversations will grow out of them. Sadly, far too often, these kinds of learning experiences are leading Black students to take shortcuts. These shortcuts include experimenting with lighter skin, slimming a bulky physique or attempts to follow external standards of beauty. These oftentimes short-sighted decisions result in weight gain and other cognitive damage, and when coupled with social media and video gaming platforms, they can leave students lacking in self-awareness.
As our cultural norms increasingly continue to shift, institutions have committed to meeting this new definition of community. Where we, once, saw a Black campus almost always be overshadowed by an Ivy League or prestigious elite liberal arts school, we now see Black students enrolling in top-tier institutions like Stanford and Columbia. However, as our cultural paradigms evolve, Black students have been investing in material wealth and non-concrete gifts, like academic knowledge and personal worth, at the cost of other natural and obvious assets, like physical and intellectual health.
Most academic advisors and admissions officers recognize that diversity in backgrounds, experiences and life stages is crucial to an institution’s success. However, rarely have we invested in fostering a culture of acceptance and responsibility in students, especially in light of a vast and unexpected shift in students’ culture and academics. This shift, in turn, impacts how these students and the institutions, directly or indirectly, handle issues ranging from social media to the effects of the still-fresh political climate.