Providence College’s 2022 Homecoming Weekend did more than add another year of celebration. It was also a mark of the first “Friars of Color” Homecoming event and, as head coordinator of the program Stephanie Mireku puts it, “just the beginning of engagement opportunities” like it. Oftentimes, the histories of Black students at PWIs are left untraced. This has a simultaneous effect on both the students’ sense of belonging and understanding of their history at the college.
Fortunately enough, Friars of Color served as a foundational resource of reinstating that history by connecting Providence College alumni and undergraduate students of color. This event was pivotal to the college’s history of DEI initiatives, as it utilized the experiences of past and present students of color as a guide to building social capital in places where resources are limited for them. One student attendee, Spencer Johnson ’24, reflects,“I think it was nice to see the alum and connect with alumni of color on a similar experience of navigating both personal and professional identity on a PWI.”
People of color already live in a world where opportunities and spaces are not catered to them. While students of color are blessed with the privilege of studying on a college campus, there are many other privileges that they are still deprived of. Oftentimes, professional opportunities are discovered and accessed through networking. On a campus that is predominantly white, it may be harder for students of color to do so. However, Friars of Color offered just that as it showcased the success, lessons, and experiences of PC alumni.
As Stephanie Mireku, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, reflects on the impact of this foundational event, she describes relationships within communities of color as “the core of and serves as the foundation for the success of initiatives, programs, and as a result true impact and progress.” Following this, she remarks “Institutional change happens over time but so does the building of relationships.”
Despite the success of this event in contributing to a sense of belonging for current students and alumni of color, there are still a plethora of ambiguities concerning what a sense of belonging means for students of color on a predominantly white campus.
When interviewing past and current students of color about whether they view the College as a place of study or a home, they all gave a similar response. Yolanda Lewis ’24 reflects on her sense of belonging and the history of students of color as “just an afterthought.” Similarly, Johnson says, “some of the issues of being a POC at a PWI are so embedded into the culture that even seeing them made me feel so different.” However, when thinking about survivability and progress for POC, this mindset keeps one from basking in the disadvantages that they are inevitably going to endure.
This suggests that, as a student of color, the conversation is not about whether campus can feel like home or just a place of study. Rather, the experience is about surviving a predominately white campus personally, academically, and most certainly professionally. Even after graduation, the feeling of disassociation still exists in students of color who attended predominantly white institutions. PC alum Phionna-Cayola Claude ’18 and ’21G expresses that “one of the most heart-wrenching realities as an alum of color at a PWI is the hollow sense of school pride that carries over into our post-grad lives.”
Although the focus is on navigating a predominantly white campus as a person of color, it is important to understand that this is often the reality in most professional spaces. Yolanda Lewis ’24 expresses that her white counterparts “have everything, but that is just the reality of it.” She then follows this statement with, “but where is dwelling on that going to get me?” Interestingly similar, PC alum of color Meeckral Searight ’93 remarks, “there will always be a white racist person. If you can navigate this place, there is no place you can’t go.”
What was most fascinating about the similarities between undergraduate students and alumni of color was the fact that their responses were never expressed with a sorrowful tone. Rather, they described these experiences as a way of life, something that pushed them, something that has been deeply tied into the untraced history of students of color on a predominantly white campus.
What feels like a norm is only a disadvantage. However, in order to defy those forces of disadvantage, students of color must ensure that they make use of every opportunity accessible to them. In other words, this means one must accept reality and search for opportunity.
It is important that the College continues to host events like Friars of Color as they will create opportunities for institutional change and the development of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.