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An open letter to black freshmen

Being black at Stanford is tough. After all, Stanford is white. It’s overwhelmingly white, even if speckled with bursts of color and culture. In this new space, your identity is defined by snap judgements and incorrect assumptions. Being black at Stanford means being defined by your differences. It can be polarizing and scary and very, very lonely. At Stanford, I found myself questioning whether I was worth the space I take up.

These emotions are my own. I’m not speaking on behalf of the black community. But I’m sure most will agree. Being black in a mostly white space can be trying — at the very least, uncomfortable.

I am writing this letter because freshman year was hard. I had very few black mentors, black communities, black spaces. I was distressed and lost and uncomfortable. So, I compiled some of the best lessons my friends and I have learned so far. I hope this can provide some peace.

There is no one blackness:

The media, and other forms of public representation, tend to clump all black people together into one idea of blackness. Especially when placed in a group setting in a new, scary place, there is a pressure to conform to some idea of group “blackness.” Whoever you are and will be is blackness. Stanford is beautiful in its diversity of social identity. Blackness is different depending on how it interacts with other parts of your identity. That is okay. Embrace this. Whoever you are within blackness is valuable to everyone in the black community. It’s just important that you be meaningful in what you contribute to the community.

  • Marc Chappelle, Class of 2021

Make time for black events:

There is no pressure to involve yourself in every aspect of new student life. The beginning of the school year is overwhelming in and of itself. Your life just got a lot more hectic; your world just got a whole lot bigger. As difficult as it may be, make time to go to a few black events. Make that space an option for yourself, somewhere you can turn to when it all is too much.

There is no way to be “in” or “out” of the black community at Stanford. No matter how it may feel, you are always welcome if you want it. There are so many people that want you to be happy here, black or otherwise.

  • Dani Lyle, Class of 2021

Branch out:

Stanford is so much bigger than your freshman dorm. Branch out. Make an effort to meet not only black students all over campus but also other students of different races and ethnicities. Try meeting older students. In my experience, they will always have more wisdom than you. Interacting with upperclassmen is something I wish I had done earlier in my freshman year.  

There is an artificial divide between east and west campus, especially in context of the black community. Push yourself to go to spaces different than your own. Make yourself known. Discover places and people you enjoy. It’s worth the bike ride.

People are here to support you:

Times will be tough. Being a student is hard, being a freshman is harder. But luckily there are so many resources and communities in place to help you through it — both academically and emotionally. We roll deep for each other. The black community will support you, no matter how involved or uninvolved you are. It can be home.

Contact Natachi Onwuamaegbu at natachi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Natachi Onwuamaegbu

Natachi Onwuamaegbu

Natachi Onwuamaegbu is a freshman from Bethesda, Maryland. She is currently undecided but is leaning towards Political Science and English. Currently, Natachi is part of the Black Student Union and hopes to run a radio station on campus. When she's not wandering around campus, Natachi likes to sit in the sun, listen to music and overuse semi-colons.