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Representation does matter

February 22, 2021

I like to say that I’m desensitized to being “the only one.” When I was younger, I quickly became aware that I was one, if not the only, person of color when taking swimming lessons, going off to sleep away camps, taking music lessons, participating in dance and other after-school extracurricular activities. Today, I look back on my past and I notice how my feelings of being the only person of color affected my self-value and confidence. In fact, I can not help but notice my feelings of ongoing self-doubt stemming from years of participating and having to live in predominantly white spaces. All significant effects from imposter syndrome.

I was first introduced to the Evanstonian in my freshman year. One of my classmates was passing out an issue of the student-written newspaper, and immediately, I was interested in participating. I have always enjoyed writing and I thought it would be the perfect way to get involved, especially as a freshman.

During the first budget meeting, I was amazed at the ideas the other writers had. Similar to other spaces I participate in, the staff was predominantly white. I noticed the staff used words I had never heard before, I felt nervous, and I could not think of any ideas. I felt like I did not belong. I was starting to have second thoughts on joining the school newspaper and I began to blame myself. I thought I was not worthy enough, not smart enough, could not use the right words. I felt embarrassed. This experience was nothing new for me and these feelings arise when I visit a space where no one looks like me or where I feel that no one appreciates my voice.

Dorina Aguilár Rasmussen, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications elaborates on this.

“Predominantly white spaces tend to encourage assimilation in spaces where diversity, inclusion and belonging should be prioritized,” Rasmussen explains. “For many POC, including myself, representation matters. It is more than helpful to be in spaces with thought leaders who look like you and with whom you may have shared lived experiences.”

When writing for the Evanstonian a couple of times in my freshman and sophomore years, I thought I had to be extra careful with the words I chose and the stories I wanted to share knowing that the Evanstonian was created by a majority of white students, for a predominantly white audience. My mindset was affected and I began to distance myself from writing even though it is something I enjoy.

At ETHS, moments like this are more common than one may think. It’s not fun, as a student of color, to be interested in something and then take a step back and not experience a potential passion based on who shows up. For me, not feeling “good enough” kept me away from extracurricular activities and AP or Honors classes due to the experience of or fear of not fitting in, of being an impostor.

“I think a lot of people don’t join the club when [they] fear the perception of what would happen. Personally, the reason why I didn’t join certain clubs because I knew that I would be one of the few if not only one. Taking that step out to do something like that is a huge risk, especially if you’ve had a lot of racial trauma growing up,” senior Olamide Thomas explains. “Especially if [you] went to a predominantly white school. I went to Orrington [which] was a very expensive, upper-middle-class school [with] a lot of rich, white kids, in my opinion. I think that really impacted a lot of things I did in my life.”

“In my role at Northwestern, I have seen impostor syndrome displayed among our highly talented students, who feel like certain leadership roles or job opportunities aren’t for them” Rasmussen explains.

Evanston and ETHS communities need to identify the situations and spaces where impostor syndrome may exist, and we need to work and make these spaces more diverse, equitable and welcoming for students of color.

For many POC, including myself, representation matters. It is more than helpful to be in spaces with thought leaders who look like you and with whom you may have shared lived experiences.”

— Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, Dorina Aguilár Rasmussen

“Students of color need to know that we see them and that we hear them. In situations where students feel unworthy it is important to acknowledge their lived experiences and challenge our community to educate itself on best practices in supporting our students of color.” Rasmussen continues, “Advisers need to continue to educate themselves on how to best support students of color… Advisers also need to advocate on behalf of students of color for resources, funding or other opportunities that will assist them in achieving their goals. They need to work towards equitable opportunities as well as encourage and support students who may not see themselves in certain spaces or opportunities.”

Throughout my experiences, I have recognized the effect of impostor syndrome on my mental health and I have been able to learn that I do belong, and I have a unique perspective to share. It is not until everyone recognizes the value of diversity and people of color, that we can honor all voices and work together in reaching common goals.

Rasmussen concludes, “Diversity is important because it enriches the experiences of everyone involved. It challenges us to be more inclusive and mindful of others, as well as more empathic to lived experiences… We want students to bring an authentic perspective and voice to all aspects of their experience.”

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