Chess pieces divided by color.

Students Of Color Face Invisible Extra Hurdle To Achieving Success

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

I finished my first semester of graduate school and to celebrate, we went on a retreat. I remember us all singing and hanging out around the table when a student friend of mine said to another student friend of mine mid-game, “How could you make that move in the game, it makes sense why you went to the prestigious California State School.” 

The first student is someone I highly respect, they are an intelligent, kind, hard-working, humorous, and extremely gifted individual that happened to go to a top 25 ranked undergraduate university per the US News Rankings. However, I froze in disbelief.

Once I gathered my words, I said to the first student 1) that student is extremely intelligent because they got to the same place as you while paying for a quarter of the price in tuition. 2) My mother and some of my closest friends growing up also went to that school. 

I was disappointed.

In many higher education institutions, the majority of students do not look like me. As someone of Incan, Mayan, Aztec, and Iberian descent, I, along with many other students of color, have to contend with more than just exams and evaluations.

I’ve been told my whole life, the only reason you got into UCLA is that you’re Latino, the only reason you got into UCSF is that you’re Latino, and the only reason you’re getting into residency is that you’re Latino…  Each time I succeeded I felt like it was due to the color of my skin and not the hard work I put in.

During my first two years at UCSF, I experienced countless unpleasant remarks from students and teachers alike. I heard remarks like, “We wouldn’t work long term as friends because we’re not from the same culture” or “I don’t like people in Oakland because they use EBT [electronic benefit transfer] food stamps.”

I’m on EBT food stamps. I even had a professor in medicine try to fail me because he said I was not meeting the standards and was at the level of a pre-reporter. However, the cardiology professor who has helped further the field with over 150+ publications and later help save my dad’s life said I was acting at the level of a resident physician.

As a tutor at UCSF, I learned I was not the only one that shared these insecurities. Many of the students in my sessions would come to me in secret, confiding that they were afraid they could not compete with their privileged peers, or succeed in a field where the attendings of color were few and far between.

The bleak statistics only reinforced their insecurities ~11% of Latino and Black students combined the 2015 matriculant pool for medical school matriculants.

Students of color across higher education often struggle with imposter syndrome. According to a study at the University of Texas at Austin, this issue can be linked to higher rates of anxiety.

Additionally, these students may experience increased stress from discrimination, microaggressions, and financial and family pressures. As a result, they are more likely to suffer from depression, which can, in turn, negatively affect their academic performance.

Furthermore, individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds may experience toxic cultures of machismo and masculinity where seeking assistance is deemed a sign of inadequacy. Consequently, only around a less than quarter of adults from underrepresented communities will seek mental health services in comparison to 40% of white students.

Numerous college campuses across the nation are also lacking satisfactory mental health resources, with UCSF only recently employing a psychologist for its professional schools.

It is difficult for many students of color to believe they can succeed in higher education institutions when they must contend with more than just their academic workload, such as racism and discrimination.

There needs to be more than new policies. The first step to raising awareness of the issues people of color face through teaching centered on justice. We also must deconstruct the stigma that does not allow individuals to ask for help. We must acknowledge that there is strength in asking for help in life.

I’m hopeful for all generations of humanity because we are all on the same team. I just hope everyone can chip in for this group project.