My name is Sara Jean-Francois and I am currently a junior at Providence College, and a student activist on campus. In highschool I was angry about life and how unfair it seemed for people like me. I am a young black woman living at a time in which society continues to disregard and disgrace black bodies. Going into college, I found myself in a place of angry silence - I didn’t feel as if I could talk about this part of me given the predominantly white context in which I had placed myself. Similar to many other schools, Providence College has its own issues in regards to race, and student life on campus sometimes seems to be centered around it. I am part of a group of students known as The Board of Representatives.
In the past two years there has been a lot of campus activism, disagreements, and school wide institutional debates reaching from religion to race relations on campus in regard to diversity implementation and more. To this end, the campus has gone through protest, dialogue, and informal discussion on issues from religion to race.
In December of 2015, a coalition of students wrote a document titled “In Response to Racism and Anti-Blackness at Providence College: Demands for Redress.” This document is a comprehensive assessment of the needs of marginalized students on campus at the time, and since then Providence College has addressed a few of these demands.
One of the demands in particular calls for cultural sensitivity training for faculty and staff. Institutions can be a hard place to address issues of culture and difference, however they still must be addressed, so I found this was my current source of my frustration. Although we protested, had sit ins, met with provosts to administration and even the president of our institution--there is a very real difference between being heard and being responded to.
Many times the meetings with administration felt generic and a formal, and sometimes the outcomes would be discussed or acknowledged, but the campus climate for the most part remained the same.
I can say with certainty that I am uncomfortable in most spaces on campus and that is because students, faculty, and staff are not trained to deal with issues that require cultural competencies. This ranges from financial aid officers’ not understanding a students inability to provide a parents information, to the controversial effects of professors writing about the detriment of “Diversity at Providence College.”
As a student, as a first generation black woman to attend a predominately white institution, I reserve the right to feel comfortable and safe, and not feel as if I will be personally attacked for my opinions, positions and ideas. College is where people go to explore, learn, and most importantly to grow. Institutions should have cultural agility training because long term effects could help avoid some preconceived notions people may already have. Students of color would not feel the need to always “prove” themselves to professors, relieving a great deal of anxiety from their already stressful academic careers.
I am a third year Psychology and Health Policy and Management (HPM) double major with a business certificate, and everyday feels like a battle between expectations to fail and my resilience to rise above those assumptions. In my second year, when I declared my double major and added my certificate, I was told by more than one person that I was trying to do too much, that it was impossible. I wonder what made these individuals think I could not succeed? That expectation of failure follows me.
In classrooms discussing the social context of race, I must always be prepared to speak for my race or stay quiet. In group work there is a constant anxiety about being the sole person of color and a nagging feeling of the need to impress. There is a constant pressure to be more, and this pressure is often heavier for students of color. It should not be this way.
Life is not easy, this much we all know. The world is not a perfect place. But students of color should not be deprived of the ability to grow and explore, and yet institutions seemingly will not take the necessary steps to make safer place in this respect. Cultural agility training for faculty, staff, and administration would begin this process of making the campus a healthy place for students like me. It would begin a cycle of students who are healthy not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. As a student, and as a person with ambition and resilience, I hope to see that day come, through the use of dialogue, our own learning, and a willingness to keep an open mind. I believe this can be accomplished.
Please don’t let negative expectations dictate how your story ends. I realized my anger was due to my lack of initiative in taking control of my story.
Don't make the same mistake. Your footprint matters.
– Sara Jean-Francois is a student at Providence College where she is a Junior studying Psychology and Health Policy Management.