ISSUE #9 — Navigating the social landscape of a PWI as a Queer POC

Don’t Believe the Hype with Shirley Irizarry


ISSUE #9 — Navigating the social landscape of a PWI as a Queer POC

June 20, 2024

Since June is Pride Month, I have invited guest blogger, Bianca Byrd, for this month’s issue. Bianca, a 2024 graduate of Mount Holyoke College speaks about her experience as a Queer student of color attending a predominantly white institution. 

Guest Blogger: Bianca Byrd

My name is Bianca and this past May, I graduated from Mount Holyoke College. Since being home I’ve had the time to reflect on my experience not only as a first generation college student, but as a queer person of color at a predominantly white institution. There were many different things to get used to on campus, and there were plenty of times where I felt overwhelmed in these spaces, but I was lucky to have been able to find support in my fellow students of color.

It took me a bit to find people who either looked like me or shared similar upbringings, as I wasn’t seeing them in many of my classes. Often I was one of maybe four Black or Hispanic students in a class of 30. Initially I found it challenging to initiate conversations with students, and there were plenty of times where I was made to feel like I didn’t belong on campus despite the college priding itself on its diverse and inclusive population. There were statements made by the school in support of LGBTQIA+ students, especially following events of violence toward these groups.

However, this was about as far as the support went, as many of the queer students of color who actually lived on campus didn’t feel this love in their day to day lives. As with a lot of racism today, the acts weren’t outwardly directed toward any students, but it was clear in terms of financial/educational support and facilities that Black and Brown students were not the top priority. Often when students of color try to speak up on issues, the cause gets co-opted and the focus is shifted back onto the white students for the sake of including everyone in the group. This is not new, as we see it happening today with Pride Month and how it has been changed from what it originally stood for.

Black and Brown people’s voices get drowned out by “allies” and white queer people who feel like we face the same struggles because we are both part of an oppressed group. Instances like this, paired with what can be best described as imposter phenomenon, would bring about intense feelings of insecurity within me, and I would constantly have to be reminded of all I’ve done to get to where I am by my family and friends, and of my right to take up space.

I was able to find my people once I started attending workshops and joining clubs on campus. I went to meetings for activities like knitting club or whine down classes, and I also subscribed to group chats for first generation, low income students so I knew when they had events or were sharing resources. There were also a few good study groups I’d joined in the Africana classes, since other students of color would acknowledge me, and we were then able to bond (though we were usually bonding on the fact that we were the only people of color in that class.) By the end of sophomore year, I had a few very close friends who shared similar upbringings, and in that I felt like I had a piece of home with me in this completely different space.

As the years passed, I made many friends from all over the WORLD (because I studied abroad in Samoa hehe) who had all different kinds of experiences and perspectives, and I am happy with my time at Mount Holyoke. But I don’t think I could have gotten through it without my now best friends, as they were my people I could rant to about the microaggressions I would experience in class, or cry about topics discussed in my sociology courses. But they were also the ones who motivated me to keep going during hard times, and they constantly reminded me that I belonged there and that I mattered. The friends I made at MoHo will be in my life forever 🙂

Before I sign off, I wanted to share some tips for navigating white spaces like those at PWIs for incoming college students:

  1. Go to workshops/freshman seminars!! Join clubs!! As someone who isn’t the most outgoing, I understand it is difficult to approach groups of friends and initiate conversations, but I challenge you to try to reach out. Find a partner in a workshop or ask a classmate to set up weekly study sessions.
  2. It can be very easy to believe that you are invisible or not as important as other students—I remember struggling to contribute to class discussions for fear of sounding uneducated or people disagreeing with me—but remember you worked hard to get here and you deserve to share your thoughts. Additionally, ask questions if you don’t understand something, it can be helpful for you and others as it’s likely someone had the same question but was too nervous to ask.
  3. Take up space!!! You paid to be there just like everyone else, you have the right to all resources. Do not be afraid to try new workouts in the gym, be loud in the dining hall with your friends, do not let these people push you off the sidewalk(they will pretend they do not see you, demand to be seen!) You Matter!!