If you haven’t read my initial post about my college journey, I suggest you start there before continuing on. In short summary, I am the first to attend college in my family and my transition didn’t go well. There were a lot of mistakes made and I could have used some guidance from another black adoptee who had gone through this process. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the means of connecting with people like y’all do now, so I went in blind. Lucky for you all, I'm here to be your fairy godmother and share with you some of the things I had questions about and I found out the hard way, you should probably keep in mind while choosing a school.
HBCU vs. PWI
I’ve seen a lot of adoptive parents worried that their black TRAs don’t want to attend HBCUs and I don’t think it’s something you need to panic about. As a black adoptee, the thought of attending an HBCU had never crossed my mind. I had just assumed I would go to a PWI (Predominantly White Institution). It wasn’t until I got a black mentor while attending a community college that the idea was brought up. My mentor and I were working on my 3-year plan, including where I was going to apply for my 4-year school. She asked if I had considered Howard University or any other HBCU. I hadn't. We talked about it, she herself had attended Howard, and was able to share about her experiences attending an HBCU. For me, the idea of attending an HBCU was stressful. As a TRA who has been mostly deprived of my black culture my entire life, being dropped into black culture turned all the way up to the max, 24/7 was overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that you still have to explain being transracially adopted to black people too, so you don’t really avoid the ignorance and microaggressions anyways. Now some TRAs love it, that’s the push they need. Sometimes diving into your culture headfirst is what works for you, and if that sounds like you, you should consider an HBCU. But for me, I like to learn and move at my own pace and I think that is fine too. I did apply to Howard, but I felt more comfortable going to a diverse PWI because I already know how to handle just about every situation that could possibly occur.
If you do choose a PWI though, go read my PWI survival guide because you’ll need it.
Community College vs. University
I will be sharing my community college experience next week, but in the meantime, you should consider looking at your local CC. For some reason, CCs seem to get a bad reputation. I think people don’t see them as a "real" colleges because it’s 2-year vs 4-year and they don’t have all the fancy greek life and whatever extra nonsense you get at Uni. I am a strong advocate for community college. I love them, I learned far more both academically and about general life skills in community college than I did at either of the Unis I attended. Instead of going from homeschool to college. I should have gone homeschool, community college to university. I think it would have helped me transition better. And being as (for whatever reason) a lot of adoptees also seem to be homeschooled, you may want to look into community college before a taking that leap to uni. CCs also help you save money and give you more opportunities to explore what you’re interested in. The way CCs work is that you take all your general studies classes, which is what you do for your first two years at a uni anyways. So basically by the time you get your A.A. and if you choose to transfer to a uni, you only have to pay for 2 years vs 4-years. Now if you think you have everything planned out and know what you want to do, where you want to go, then sure go right to Uni, there’s nothing wrong with that either. If you’re a little on unsure, want to save some money or just want to see if the whole college thing is for you at all, I'd suggest you check out a community college. I may help you get more grounded before going to a uni.
Diversity Statistics & Retention Rates
There is a general "rule" that the diversity of the staff/administration should reflect that of the student body. For example, if the student body is 45% black and 55% white, the full-time staff should also be 45% black and 55% white. In reality what typically happens is no matter what the student body’s diversity is, the staff is primary white. The staff of color that does exist, is part-time and adjunct. Why does this matter? Because it lets you know how committed to diversity the school is and if they are actually trying to implement change. When I was at my community college, they actually had a fairly high amount of students of color considering we’re in Olympia. Washington, but the staff—almost 90% white. Their mission statement said they were committed to diversity and retention of minority students, yet their graduation rates for students of color dropped every year. That shows that there’s a problem and you should be aware of that when you start looking because you’re going to be one of those minority students and could very well be one of those statistics.
In addition to looking at the staff/students, do they have any programs that specifically support minority students? I went to three different schools and only one of them had some form of a “Diversity & Equity Center” (DEC). The sole purpose of this office was to provide support and resources for minority students to help them succeed. Whether it be extra help with school or just a safe place to go when you need it. They would serve as the liaison between students and administration. The two schools I attended that didn’t have any form of diversity centers, I dealt the most racism and got zero support from the staff when I tried to report it. I think as a TRA entering college, especially if you’re in a PWI, having staff support is going to be an important factor is your college success. If nothing else, it serves as a great safe space to meet and connect with other people like yourself.
Location, Location, Location
This is somewhat related to the previous point about diversity support. Location is a huge part of choosing a school as a minority. If you find a school you like, but they’re lacking in diversity support, you may be able to supplement that by being in a city that does have a lot of community organizations for minorities that will support you. I learned this the hard way. My location goal was as just to go as far away from Olympia as possible, and I didn’t pay much attention to what was actually available in that community. I ended up in New Hampshire which is even whiter than Olympia and doesn’t possess any form of progressiveness or community organizations. I had some of the worst experiences with racism in my life, the year I was there. Schools are very smart about offering money to minority students to fulfill their diversity quota, but then they won’t provide any support at all. This was the exact situation with my first college. Had I known better to research the community as well as the school, I probably would have avoided going there all together and not wasted a year of tuition. The other schools I attended were in Washington and then Boston, although both are still pretty white, they do have active communities. I would say Olympia more than Boston, but I was able to find my people and get involved which helped substitute for the PWIs and not much funding for diversity anything on campus. So be mindful of where the school is located. I'll also stress that this is why taking tours are important. You may think it looks great from the website and all the fancy materials they send you, but you'll know that gut feeling that something is off when you actually walk around the campus and city.
What Extracurricular Programs Are Available
I will say this till the day I die, extracurriculars are just as important as your classes. I was that student who just went to classes and went home for the first year or so of college. It wasn’t until someone forced me to get involved that I did and it changed my whole life. Getting involved in campus is where you’re able to explore your interests, passions and share experiences with other students. When you’re checking out schools, look to see what student groups exist on campus. Particularly if there are any that support diversity such as black student union or maybe even an adoptee club. If one doesn’t exist, check to see what it takes to create one yourself. Do they support student clubs? Do they get funding? What they do and don’t have will tell you a lot about what the school supports. Part of your tuition goes to a “student services fee” which is supposed to be allocated to things like these clubs and programming so if they aren’t supporting student clubs, you’re essentially having your money wasted. It was through student activities that I was encouraged to explore my black identity, went to student conferences around the country and met lifelong friends. I ended up starting a Black Student Union, got involved with the local community, started a black student conference and also how I started designing and teaching workshops. I brought those talents to my uni and ended up being asked by the college president to be on the advisory board. So yeah, getting involved is super important and you want to make sure your school allows you the opportunity to do so.
Have you come across any other questions or concerns on your college-choosing journey?
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