I continually do surveys and conduct an ongoing oral history project so that I can chart what undergraduates are thinking and the language they are using to describe their experiences and feelings. It's important to keep the perspectives of black students in conversations. You'd be surprised how absent black student voices are in discussions concerning black students and diversity.
In December 2021, I asked approximately 330 black students from SIUE what they thought one of the most important challenges to consider as we continued to deal with life during a pandemic. An overwhelming majority of students pointed to mental health as a major concern, and they also noted other related topics.
Below is a selection of responses grouped into five categories: racism, mental health, lack of interaction, lack of motivation, difficulties learning, and other.
• One of the most important challenges we black students face is racism. It's all across this campus and everywhere in the world. SIUE needs to diversify the institution more and educate everyone about racism.–E. K.
• Racism happens to be a big problem when going to a PWI, we deal with people from all over the world and with different types of home training. It's almost impossible to stop because racism doesn't just come from one person it's passed down from generation to generation. –A. M.
• Being at a PWI itself is a challenge. As African Americans, we feel unsafe or unwanted here. We don’t have many programs or much to represent us. So it’s hard for us to show who we are and what we are capable of. –R. S.
• One of the challenges we face is finding people like us to relate to. We are a minority as a whole in America, and this school is predominately Muzungu [a Swahili term for wandering white people] so it’s hard. Another challenge is subtle racism/microaggressions. --O. D.
• Personally I feel our mental health, as African Americans, should be more looked upon in college, especially since we’re new to this whole pandemic ordeal. I feel everyone should play a part in making everyone comfortable. --C. J.
• S.: From my experience, one of the most important challenges of discussion should be the mental health and resources for students who are mothers. The pandemic has at times called for student mothers to be teachers of advancing methodology that's unfamiliar while submitting themselves to unfamiliar information and subject matters. While this reduced to mere responsibility, it carries great weight when having to be done in the context of heightened fears, fatigue of already short attention spans, and the absence of the time that would normally be a break for the mother. The exhaustion from that and not having resources to show understanding of our plight and provide some sort of strategy or boost proves to be difficult and unseen. --J. S.
• I would say the most prominent problems amongst black students especially during this pandemic is mental health, social skills, and financial stability. I can say from experience that the pandemic was very mentally straining on me. In the beginning of the pandemic I never left my room, let alone my bed. I was 4 hours away from my friends and I was just very down and lost all motivation for school. –B. B.
• I believe the biggest challenge for black students is mental illness. The pandemic shut down a lot of opportunities to form and maintain bonds with people. Coming out of the pandemic and straight into college can be hard on a lot of people. -T. G.
• The biggest challenge to me is overcoming our own mental battles. Everyone is going through it during these dire times and one might tend to beat themselves up mentally. Especially black men, with everything that's been going on from the beginning of the pandemic all the way to now. People are losing their drive to keep going but we all have to come together and lift each other up. – A. C.
• I think that one of the most important challenges African Americans students have faced during this pandemic is mental health. We have faced a variety of things from racial injustice, like with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths to being the main group to die from Covid-19 during this pandemic. All these serious issues being brought upon us, and including keeping up with schoolwork has caused a strain on many African American students mental health. School is often harder for us because sometimes we don’t have the same resources as the others so we are forced to work our hardest to succeed. Nothing gets handed down to us. –J. D.
• I would say the biggest challenge is mental illness. Even though we are not on lock down like before COVID is still affecting lives and for most people mentally. I feel people are scared to say I need to go to therapy to deal with my problems. –T. C.
• One of the biggest challenges facing us is most definitely mental health and being able to connect with others again. I know for a lot of people staying at home for months took a toll on their mental health and having to adjust again isn’t very easy. A. D.
• The biggest challenge I think black people are facing right now is mental health. As a black person in COVID going to a PWI, my own mental health is not good. And with COVID and not being able to get proper help it makes things worse. -D. A.
Lack of interaction
• I believe the biggest challenge while covid is going on is that black students aren't able to interact as much as they would have in previous years. There aren't as many classes in person, so there aren't as many opportunities to talk to other students in general. –P. O.
• The pandemic has profoundly affected the way we interact with one another, whether it is to advance academically or simply to establish meaningful connections. Although, I believe SIUE does a good job of bringing together the Black community through various forums and social events. –S. H.
• The biggest challenge students of color face because of the pandemic are our ability to develop intimate connections with one another. Whether it is to advance in the academic arena or simply to develop a meaningful connection, the pandemic has profoundly influenced how we interact with one another. However, through various forums and social events, I feel SIUE does a good job of connecting the Black community with one another. –K. D.
• The biggest challenge is being in a predominantly white area. There are other black students, but they are spread so few and far between that I don’t really get a chance to meet them and make new friends. This makes it a problem when it comes to connecting to other black students or learning about black student groups. B. W.
• I believe one of the biggest challenges black students face today is interacting with each other or getting involved on campus. To help solve this problem, we need to make sure black students are in the loop about events and activities and also have events specifically for black students. –J. N. • One of the biggest challenges black students face would have to be the lack of interaction between one another. A good majority of us aren't able to bond with one another, due to the social limitations set by the pandemic. Also, since we attend a PWI, it can be more challenging to fit in. –M. P.
Lack of motivation
• I would say motivation. I have been so tired constantly and I even caught covid this year and was out the count for weeks. I was treated awfully by my professors who seemed to think everyone could only be sick for 10 days and it just feels like all the passion I had for school is really a lot less. –M H.
• One of the biggest challenges is lack of motivation. Considering everything that has happened with covid, it can create a lot of stress on top of it maybe affecting them physically. All of this combined can really damage your motivation to do anything, especially school. J. Q.
• I think an important challenge we face it our ability to stay up. Now when I say that I mean the pandemic put us in a lazy and sad place. I feel as if we've lost motivation to do more or to even get back to where we were. That mother can come from anywhere teachers, friend, parents, boss, coworkers. We need to strive for more and stop sitting at home on the couch or laying in bed. Doing nothing. This pandemic set us back and it sat us down. Let's not let it keep us there. –Z. D.
• The biggest challenge is the motivation to keep going. There aren’t many resources we can used as a motivational tool or a push to keep going. With the pandemic many goals where hindered and almost pushed to the side due to the feeling of failure and or the mental state we began to get in as the pandemic hit. There should be more resources for us to feel comfortable discussing these problems. C. S.
• One of the most concerning topics regarding black students is teaching ourselves. Today, schools are utilizing online teaching for some classes, and it could be difficult for students who prefer to learn hands-on. This could cause us to feel frustrated and tired of certain classes. --J. R.
• I think one of the most important challenges for black students at SIUE is transitioning back to a more traditional setting within classes. For me personally it has been hard getting back to use to actually coming on campus and attending lectures and labs rather than learning from a computer screen all day. I've realized that like myself, many other black students have sort of lost that drive and passion for our majors because during covid there was no real learning experience. -E. C.
• I think the biggest challenge for black students would be feeling as if they are apart of a larger black community while being a student. As someone who goes to a PWI, it can be very easy to not see many black faces in everyday interactions, and that can discourage a lot of students who are trying to acclimate to a new environment. I do think that that is a huge issue and can be a reason why a good number of black students, particularly black men, drop out of college at higher rates at this university. J. W.
• The biggest challenge to me is not ever seeing many black students. I do not have many in my classes. I think many people expect us to fail and attending an PWI during covid, also with me being pregnant I really don't have time to walk the campus and meet new people. I take a sociology class and just listening to some of the non-black people talk about life situations makes me cringe. Some people come from small towns where they never see or hear about anything bad. It's just a different scene, some I had to get used too. No one really understanding what you have been through while you still continue to come to class every day and push yourself to succeed. -J. M.