Saturday, April 20, 2024

NewsSportsArtsOpinionThe QuadPhotoVideoIllustrationsCartoonsGraphicsThe StackPRIMEEnterpriseInteractivesPodcastsBruinwalkClassifieds

The Black Bruin Experience: UCLA must help support Black students’ mental health

A mural at the Black Bruin Resource Center is pictured. Black Bruins often — but shouldn’t have to — feel like they don’t belong at UCLA, an institution with a high white student population. Black students deserve to feel welcomed, embraced and celebrated at UCLA.

By Laila Wheeler

Oct. 20, 2022 11:18 p.m.

“The Black Bruin Experience” is a series by assistant Opinion editor Laila Wheeler, a second-year public affairs and sociology student. As a Black student at UCLA, she will be exploring a variety of Black issues, from institutional racism to anti-Blackness to the everyday experiences of being Black in the higher education system. These columns will not only focus on Black trauma, but they will also highlight the multidimensionality of Blackness, including Black creativity, Black success, Black leadership and Black excellence. The Black community at UCLA has been tirelessly advocating for its demands to be heard, and these columns aim to amplify Black voices and call on UCLA administrators to actively work toward creating an anti-racist institution. Black Bruins are welcome to submit op-eds or letters to the editor to be published as part of this series to fully represent the diverse experiences and viewpoints of the Black community.

As I walked into my first lecture hall at UCLA, it became strikingly apparent what a predominantly white and Asian institution looked like.

Gazing at a crowded room of nearly two hundred students, I searched up and down the aisles just to find three other Black students sitting together.

I instantly felt a pit in my stomach as I grappled with the ominous feeling that I didn’t belong here. A rush of memories flooded my mind and I reimagined the day I received my acceptance letter. My family and I were ecstatic as we joyfully celebrated around the living room after my computer screen lit up with the words, “Congratulations! You’re #UCLABOUND.”

My dream was to attend UCLA, but the reality was far from the dream I had envisioned.

As I anxiously sat in that crowded lecture hall among my white and Asian peers, it felt like UCLA wasn’t created for people like me — and that was a hard pill to swallow. This would be the first of many times that I experienced a deep sense of unbelonging – the infamous impostor syndrome.

As an institution that heavily promotes its diversity, where was it?

I remember flipping through the promotional flyers and pamphlets and seeing several Black students on the front pages, but where were they now?

As of fall 2021, only 5.6% of undergraduate students at UCLA are Black. This means that out of approximately 32,000 undergraduate students, around 1,800 were Black or African American.

Black Bruins deserve more — to feel welcomed, embraced and celebrated at a place they call home, but this is far too often not the case.

This shared sense of unbelonging among the Black community can amount to other self-deprecating emotions and even lead to serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

In fact, African Americans are 20% more likely to struggle with their mental health than their counterparts, according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

The disproportionate mental health impact on Black communities can be attributed to countless factors that we experience on a daily basis, such as systemic racism, microaggressions, generational trauma, financial insecurity and discrimination, to name the least.

Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge that the Black community is not a monolith and Black experiences are indeed multidimensional. Intersectionality, a term coined by distinguished UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, plays a detrimental role in determining the systems of oppression that Black individuals may encounter based on one’s intersecting identities and the severity of their marginalization. For instance, Black people who also identify as gender non-conforming, LGBTQ+, disabled or low income, are more likely to experience increased rates of mental illness.

Despite these stark mental health disparities, however, only one in three Black individuals who have mental illness receive professional help because of the pervasive stigma of mental illness being perceived as a weakness. Harmful stereotypes like the “strong Black women trope” perpetuate the false belief that Black women are essentially superhuman and incapable of experiencing pain to the extent of their white counterparts.

On top of that, when Black people do vocalize their struggles, their experiences are often ignored, misunderstood or undervalued by medical professionals, ultimately discouraging them from reaching out for help in the future. This unfortunate reality originates from a larger, systemic issue and demonstrates the harsh legacy of slavery, colonialism and the historical dehumanization of Black people that still persists today.

As Black Bruins and high-achieving scholars, we continue to exemplify resilience and determination despite attending a university that often falls short in providing the resources we need and deserve.

That doesn’t mean that success comes without struggle.

Sometimes all we want to see is a professor that looks like us or a classroom filled with all different shades of black and brown.

Sometimes all we want to do is speak to a therapist who genuinely understands and validates our racial struggles.

Sometimes all we want to be is our authentic selves and not conform to the Eurocentric standards of “professionalism” in the higher education system.

Sometimes all we want to hear is that “we matter” in an institution that often makes us feel like we don’t.

Attending UCLA is a constant struggle, one that extends far back into history as former Black Bruins tirelessly advocated for the resources we enjoy today.

The long-awaited opening of the Black Bruin Resource Center reminds us that we have a place of solace and community to resort to, especially on days when our mental health struggles are too much to handle alone. The BBRC provides us with a safe space to uplift and inspire one another to keep going and strive for greatness.

I’ve always heard that it’s hard to make a small school big, but it’s easy to make a big school small — and at UCLA, that reigns true.

While we may not find each other often, the smallest gesture of sharing a smile as we pass by on Bruin Walk makes all the difference.

Despite the overwhelming challenges of being a Black Bruin, it still comes with celebratory moments of joy, unity and unconditional support.

So, if I were to tell my past self walking into that crowded lecture hall one thing, it would be to just wait. Although it may be hard, one day, you’ll find a community of people whom you’ll connect with – one Black Bruin at a time.


Share this story:FacebookTwitterRedditEmail
Laila Wheeler | Opinion editor
Wheeler is a 2023-2024 Opinion editor. She currently serves on the editorial board and was previously an assistant Opinion editor and columnist. She is a third-year public affairs, education and sociology student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
Wheeler is a 2023-2024 Opinion editor. She currently serves on the editorial board and was previously an assistant Opinion editor and columnist. She is a third-year public affairs, education and sociology student from Rancho Cucamonga, CA.
Featured Classifieds
Apartments for Rent

APARTMENTS AVAILABLE: Studios, 1 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms, and 3 bedrooms available on Midvale, Roebling, Kelton and Glenrock. Please call or text 310-892-9690.

More classifieds »
Related Posts