IMPACT OF RACIAL STRESS
College often offers us many new experiences, positive and negative. Students of color are faced with the unique stressors of contending with systemic injustice and outright discrimination leading to racial stress. These interactions can leave students feeling unsafe and unwelcome and can be damaging and demoralizing. The Villanova community seeks to foster a safe, inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds and the University Counseling Center wants to provide all students with a supportive space to talk about racial stress and the impact of racism.
What is racial stress?
Racial stress or trauma is an emotional response to an encounter with racism, discrimination, or prejudice. Racism is an attitude, behavior, or institutional policy that discriminates against someone’s well-being because of racial prejudice. Prejudice is a negative belief or judgment that one person has about another person or group because of some aspect of their identity. Sometimes racist behavior can be outright and direct, and can leave one feeling hurt, frightened, angry, or alienated. Other times it may happen in less overt ways, such as through microaggressions - subtle and sometimes small interactions that reveal someone’s biases or prejudice. Exposure to the racist experiences of others through social media, the news, or the stories of loved ones can be yet another source of distress and vicarious trauma. Racial stress can accumulate through repeated encounters and have significant mental, emotional, and physical effects (Mental Health America, 2022).
Racism can occur within groups, within institutions, or in one-on-one interactions and in many different ways. Hearing other students use or express derogatory slurs or express biased opinions demonstrates racism but so does being singled out to speak about your experience as a student of color in a public setting without any thought to your comfort level. You might worry that others will not support you if you speak up or feel burdened with having to be the one to address and educate others about what is problematic. We want you to know that the University Counseling Center strives to be a safe place for all students to discuss all aspects of their experiences on campus and to support students experiencing racial stress.
Effects of Racial Stress
- Feeling scared, either for your safety and/or wary of being uncomfortable
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or worn down
- Feeling isolated from others
- Feeling angry
- Feeling intense emotional doubt and uncertainty
- Feeling that you must defy or avoid confirming other people’s stereotypes or misconceptions
- Internalizing others prejudiced beliefs, leading you to dismiss your own strengths or feel like an ‘imposter’ who doesn’t belong
- Avoiding people or situations related to prior racially traumatic experiences
- Physical health concerns (i.e. headaches, chest pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal concerns, etc.)
Ways to Cope with Racial Stress
- Connect with a support network- You are not alone and not the only student of color facing these difficult experiences, and there are opportunities to join or create supportive community on campus. Seek out others who share your experience, or allies or mentors who wish to support you. There are student run groups on campus that can help you connect with others (see below).
- Take time to reflect on how much there is to appreciate and celebrate about your cultural heritage, your racial identity, and who you are as a unique individual.
- Racial stress can lead to internalized shame or chronic negative thoughts about oneself. It might be helpful to identify ways you might be blaming yourself or putting yourself down that may be related to systemic racism or injustice.
- Get involved- Help our campus to become more anti-racist. Whether you're someone who has felt these stresses directly or you’re an ally who wants to help, advocating for change is critical. Again, there are opportunities on campus to get involved (see below).
- But don’t take on too much- It is not your responsibility to fix all of the problems you are seeing or change other people’s behavior. Take space for yourself when you need to and be attentive to your own needs and well-being.
- Talking through your feelings and experiences with a therapist, at the University Counseling Center or off campus, can help you sort through difficult emotions and develop a more personalized plan for coping with the impact of racial stress.
If you have a concern about a race-related incident on campus and need support, you are encouraged to report climate concerns.
- The University Counseling Center is open Monday through Friday from 9-5. Schedule an appointment by calling 610-519-4050.
- The Office of Intercultural Affairs (OIA) at 610-519-7220
- The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) at 610-519-5719.
- The Center for Access, Success, and Achievement (CASA) at 610-519-4075
- Find a Culture & Identity-Based Student Group on campus: https://vugroups.campuslabs.com/engage/organizations?categories=1293
- Campus Ministry: 610-519-4080
For additional resources and help finding off-campus support, visit the American Psychological Association’s “Managing your distress in the aftermath of racial trauma and stress” page at https://www.apa.org/topics/racism-bias-discrimination/managing-distress-racial-trauma
Or for more resources, visit Mental Health America’s website for resources on healing from racial trauma at https://www.mhanational.org/racial-trauma
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.