I feel the following questions replays in the minds of a lot minority PhD students, even if they do not say it out loud, they probably ask themselves, do I belong here? Who viewed my application and what made them think that I’d be a good fit? These are not rare question, and I am sure almost everyone (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc.) asks themselves this, but I decided to bring this up to address something that I have been thinking about a lot. There are a lot of enrichment program out there that aims to help students from disadvantaged background get to where they want to go, academically and professionally. However, the true value of affirmative action or program that aids individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds is under appreciated. Furthermore, too many people fully understand the importance of a diverse work force, but even more importantly, very few appreciate how serious and wide spread systemic oppression really is. I feel this is a problem even among the students whom these programs aim to help. Below you will see what I mean.
In high school I was an upward bound student, in undergraduate I was a McNair scholar. As a Post-baccalaureate, I was a PREP scholar and now as a graduate student, I am an IMSD scholar. I have benefited greatly from these enrichment programs and appreciated the help of the many mentors I have come across.
As I have highlighted above. I myself, have taken advantage of the educational programs that aims to help students from marginalized background advanced forward in their academic pursuits. I have received a lot of grants, scholarships, and travel awards, and through my experience I have heard a lot. My scholarships have been called the black scholarships, the recognition I have received for my efforts, I have been made to feel that I got them only because of my skin color. After receiving this kind of feedback for so long, I began to question myself as well as the work of those around me who are trying to close social, political and economic gaps among the different race groups. Have I just gotten this far because of my skin color? Am I as good as I think I am? Am I as smart as I think I am. If I were white, would I have gotten the grants, scholarship or travel awards that I received?
I have seen many institutions award their minority students for their accomplishments. I appreciate this because nothing builds moral than acknowledgement that your efforts are being noticed. However, is titling these awards minority awards painting the picture that minority students are not as good as everyone else? I ask this question because I was thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow student who was going to be recognize, he did not feel excited about his award. He felt the award was merely recognizing the fact that he was from a minority background, and not actually recognizing his accomplishments. He said, if he needed someone to remind him that he was not white, he would just go home and talk to his parents, or look at a mirror, he did not need a minority accomplishment award to know that he was a minority. I said, damn!.
So, my question to everyone out there is, is affirmative action helping, or is it creating a culture and mindset that minority students cannot complete. And while it is critical to address the issues of the historical events that has led to the established system, how can students take advantage of the enrichment program that aims to close the social, economic and political gaps without feeling less about themselves? Are “minority accomplishment awards” helping or creating more harm? I am not questioning the system that has been set, nor am I criticizing the efforts of the programs that has helped to get to where I am at this point. But every now and then I come across people who makes me question myself, making the imposter syndrome feel more real.