“Feeling Smaller in the Room”: Improving the P.O.C. Experience at PC
The year 1968 marked the end of the Civil Rights Movement, a time when African-Americans across the United States came together to demand equality for all. However, this is not where the story ended. As a predominantly white institution, Providence College tries to be an inclusive place for all, but is it succeeding? Is PC really doing enough to make students of color feel safe and welcomed?
An interview with a female-identifying African-American student who wished to remain anonymous provides insight into this question. When asked how she would summarize the Black experience at the College, her response was, “Tense. Always being on guard….I feel like other people of color would agree with me. This is why we have programs like Horizons, and why we have affinity clubs like OLAS, and SHEPARD, and Afro-Am…we have these because we feel tense all the time and we need spaces to relax.” Furthermore, when asked if she ever felt uncomfortable being a student of color at a predominantly white school, she responded, “Oh absolutely.” While situations like being the only P.O.C. in a class wouldn’t normally be an issue, she is aware that there are students who, while not openly racist, do hold racial prejudices.
Another problem she faces going to a predominantly white school is, “Always feeling smaller in the room and never being able to take up space in the same way that I feel other people feel like they can.”
“I want to exist as a human being in a room,” she says, “but it’s hard when you’re the only one that looks like you in that room.” Despite this, she said that generally she does not feel unsafe, since while some students may believe racist sentiments, in her experience most do not seem openly malicious. She also added that her skin tone has an effect on how people treat her, as she has a lighter skin tone compared to other African Americans.
Since 2020, there have been many discussions based on what has to be done in order to make the U.S. a safer and more inclusive place for P.O.C. One of the questions asked during the interview was what she would change in the U.S. to make it safer and more inclusive. She said that reporting hate crimes and having justice for victims, law enforcement treating them like they would any other major crime, would be one thing. Since racism is something that is learned, she also expressed a desire for education programs to teach people to unlearn racism, and how to become better people. In addition, she said there needs to be reform at the congressional level, as they are continually allowing injustices against people of color to occur.
As someone who identifies as white, I did not understand the full scope of the BIPOC experience at the College. While the experience has improved over the years, there is still work to be done. Racism is something people learn and it can be expressed both consciously and subconsciously. While PC has a requirement that students must take a diversity course of their choosing, many of these courses focus on understanding various cultures rather than directly confronting the issue of racism. While it is not always possible to change the way a person thinks, it is possible to at least try to give them some awareness as to why the way they perceive reality is wrong and that it is never too late to learn from your mistakes and become a better person. To conclude the interview, I asked the student if there was anything she wanted readers to know. She said, “Do keep in mind that there are different types of Black people. No Black person is the same and we shouldn’t be treated as a monolith…even though some of our experiences will be the same, a lot of them will inevitably be different…you’re going to have the outgoing Black person and the shy Black person…and when, especially white people, especially racist white people look at a group of people and just see one bad thing altogether, and just see one monolith of whatever stereotype they have in their head, they are denying themselves friends. They are denying themselves diversity, fun, and friendships.”