An open letter to this year’s incoming freshmen of color

by Divya Sriharan

Deciding to come to San Diego State University was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I hope it soon becomes the same for you, if it isn’t already.

As a person of color on a campus like SDSU, we all share a unique set of experiences. Though we have a fairly diverse campus, it’s not often that we find people we can identify with and relate to.

For that reason, I felt it was only right for me and my fellow friends of color to offer up some advice to the incoming students of color:

My friend Neha Nene, senior and computer science major suggests, that all incoming freshmen of color should, “be open-minded and embrace the diversity you will be exposed to. Find organizations and activities where you can meet new people and don’t be afraid to reach out and introduce yourself. Everyone’s nicer than they seem.”

You’re going to meet people from a lot of different places — many who have grown up much differently from you. Some who have never interacted with someone of your race or ethnicity before. While this is a great teaching opportunity, it can also often lead to ignorant comments that may come at you by surprise.

But, this is college. People are going to say things that offend you.

You’ll probably have classes that turn into debates, and it’s likely that people’s words will hurt you, make you angry or uncomfortable, but it’s important that you learn to pick your battles and respond effectively.

One of the toughest things about being a person of color on campus is the huge burden we’re given. Somehow we’re expected to educate our peers on why the microaggressions, the stereotypes and the racial slurs are not only extremely offensive, but also unacceptable.

Even worse, is when people who you thought were very similar to you, end up expressing thoughts vastly different from your own. Thoughts that invalidate your existence and inaccurately reflect your experiences. Many of them do not care to see the world from your point of view or to understand why things might be harder for you.

With that being said, when I asked my friend CJ Simmons, a senior and liberal arts major what advice he had for students of color, he said, “Don’t be afraid of people. Be progressive when it comes to meeting people because college connections and relationships are important.”

Ultimately, your freshman year, but most importantly, your entire experience at SDSU, is what you make of it. Go out of your way to meet and befriend people who are not the same as you. Though it’s a lot easier to be friends with people who you feel understand you and your culture, it’s important you avoid accepting an “us versus them” mentality. Learning from each other will make your college experience that much more valuable.

I challenge incoming SDSU students to make an effort to be friends with people outside of their race or socioeconomic class. Meet people who see things differently than you do. Have those tough discussions and help people understand where you’re coming from. Yes, it’s frustrating, but it could change that person’s opinion for the rest of their life.

My last piece of advice — go for every opportunity that you can find.

Don’t expect anything to be given to you. If you want something, you have to go grab it, and believe that you are the most qualified person for that job. I used to think I wasn’t qualified for anything, but the second I started taking risks and working hard, I got opportunities I never thought I would have.

You do this by working ten times harder than everyone else, being confident in your abilities and being passionate about the actions you take. Seek advice from people who’ve been here longer, and when you get to be older and more established, make sure you pay it forward.

Set goals for yourself, and make sure that those goals include helping your fellow people of color succeed and giving back to your community in some way, shape or form.

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