“Have you ever just wanted to call in ‘black’ to work?” begins YouTube personality “Evelyn from the Internets” in her 2015 video “ Call in Black.” Being inundated with news about racial violence is overwhelming, she explains, cutting to a shot of her scrolling through news on her phone with an exclamation, “Wait—what?” In a voiceover, she explains: “Another unarmed black person assaulted and/or murdered.” Sometimes the weight of it feels inescapable—in moments like these, she proposes, you should be able to “call in black” like someone would call in sick. “The other day, when I was driving to work and I noticed water randomly pouring from my eyes, I realized something,” she says. “I was grieving.”
Evelyn addresses something that many students of color frequently face. During my freshman year, when Black Lives Matter was gaining prominence, it was hard to focus on student life while people who looked like me were being killed—all while dealing with other issues in my life. I found myself unmotivated, not interested in class or work. Since then I have limited the protests and activism I engage in because I feel as if I can’t invest that amount of emotional energy and still function as a normal student, much less a normal human.
I felt the same when Trump was elected, and, in a rare moment, I could see the rest of my campus felt it too. The day after the election was a collective day of mourning. Students on campus weren’t expected to come to class; teachers needed time for themselves, too. While it was comforting to know that my teachers understood in this instance, I noted that this hadn’t been the case in the wake of yet another violent, systemic, widely publicized murder of a black person.
When any student enters college, they are forced to grapple with time management, homesickness, identity, and much more. But these difficulties radically deepen when you overlay things like racism, classism, and homophobia. Dealing with systems of oppression can cause fatigue in ways in which a student of color’s white peers find hard to relate. “It was harder to find support specifically for race-related concerns,” said Jane, a senior at Harvard College diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety whose name has been changed because she felt uncomfortable revealing her identity. Feeling isolated, she said, only “made other mental-health issues worse.” Mental health can affect everything from your GPA to your ability, or will, to maintain yourself and stay healthy. It’s a vicious cycle: The stress of college negatively affects a student’s mental health, and a student’s mental-health problems make the stress of college worse.
Even without mental-health issues, students of color are frequently dogged by impostor syndrome, wherein they question whether they belong in the first place. “As someone from South America, and seeing that the majority of students here are white and rich, I feel like I don’t fit, and I feel less than them,” said Jack, a sophomore at Harvard College whose name has been changed, mentioning the difficulty he has as a student. “Every day it reminds me of how foreign I am, not only because I’m from South America but also intellectually, and class-, and color-wise.” Rebekah, a senior from John Jay College, said that as a first-generation student, she had to figure out by trial and error how college worked. She said she’s been to three different colleges, transferring twice. “I’m turning 27 on June 16 and the average age of my classmates is 21. Things I didn’t know at their age I’m starting to get now. It fuels my anxiety. It adds a little bit of insecurity,” Rebekah said. “I feel like I’m behind. It’s always lingering in the background, even if I am ahead of them. No matter where they are, I still have this thing in my mind that I am behind.”