Real Talk: Being a POC at a PWI

July 17, 2020
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student, pwi, college, college student
student, pwi, college, college student

Hi there! My name is Bria Henderson and my colleague, Brandon Paz, and I are Program Coordinators within the College Forward Success Program. We work with motivated college students virtually to directly provide free coaching services to them. Recently, we began an initiative to put together a six-week blog series featuring unique student stories.

Starting next Friday, we will be spotlighting the untold stories and experiences of six students of color in the College Success Program. These students attend a PWI, or a Predominantly White Institution, and are in varying stages of their college careers. Our primary objective is to elevate and validate their voices and voices like theirs to be heard by those in places of power in higher education. We believe we can create a meaningful space for student perspectives on PWIs to be shared and valued. 

How It Happened


Sometime around March, before the first wave of COVID-19 hit Austin, I went with a group of coworkers to a local hole-in-the-wall for lunch. Just before we left, a member of the group asked me how our campus visits were going. Campus visits are exciting trips where we as Program Coordinators are able to interact with our students in person at their university or college. Usually, things are fun and engaging because it’s a special time where we get to all be together. But, other times, the subject matter is less cheerful.

I knew that on the most recent visit a student told his coach that he was struggling to find community on his campus. The student was a young, black man attending a predominantly white university. When I told the lunch group about this, they did not only relate to this particular student, but they could recount similar feelings of isolation while attending university themselves. Everyone at the table that day had a story to tell about how being a person of color added an extra lens to some, if not all, of their college years. The conversations I had that day are what first inspired Brandon and I to begin this project.

Getting Real


We understand when serving our students, we should put them first. We know this includes considering how their wellness and sense of belonging at a school might affect the trajectory of their post-secondary education.

This series serves to inform those institutions who still have work to do. It will be a wake-up call, a motivator to begin healing conversations that will explore how poorly-treated race-related issues on college campuses’ can negatively impact a student of color’s academic, social, and, professional performances. These conversations will aid in the creation of more areas of inclusion for students and faculty of color alike. These accounts will also celebrate institutions and professors that are already providing safe spaces of community for their students of color. Lastly, because this series will be on our website, high school seniors and transfer students will be able to reference this blog series as an additional resource to help them decide on which university or college fits them best.

Disclaimers and Thank Yous


When reading, please keep in mind that these stories are not the case of every student of color who attends a PWI. However, other students of color reading may find parallels in these accounts due to having experienced similar things on their own campuses. Students featured in this blog have shared their personal views of their respective PWIs. For this reason, some have asked to remain anonymous and we have agreed to respect their privacy. 

We want to personally thank every College Success student who decided to partner with us in sharing their individual experiences by contributing their unique perspectives to this project. It was our pleasure to work with you all and we are wishing you every success as you continue your academic journeys! We would also like to thank the many, many college success folks who encouraged to us make this series a reality, especially Samantha Drennon, A’nysha Aileen, Wini Evans, and Nikole Saulsberry.   

Starting next week, we hope our readers are able to gain a long-lasting outlook from these student stories. We hope they enable and empower you to continue the discussions surrounding the importance of diversity and equity in places of higher education.

Brandon Paz and Bria Henderson