COPING WITH RACE-RELATED STRESS
While many college students are dealing with stress and anxiety due to course work this finals
season, some students are facing a very specific type of strain-race-related stress.Studies have shown stress that is incurred from racial prejudice or discrimination for nonwhitestudents on predominantly white campuses can have significant effects on mental well-being.
Since the election of Donald Trump, whose win has been championed by white supremacists,
neo-nazis and those who preach anti-immigrant sentiments, there is a noticeable change in the racial climate on campus, according to students, leading to an increase in race-related stress.
“I think with the election, it’s definitely increased the amount of stress,” said Ashley Colin, a
senior in Gender and Women’s Studies. She mentioned that because she has immigrant
parents from both Mexico and India, the anti-immigrant rhetoric from Trump supporters is,“terrifying.”
“Another one of my friends, she was telling me about how she was in her apartment and she
was crying because she was really scared and she could hear her neighbors celebrating the
election,” Colin said of her friend who identifies as Black. “It was scary for me to see that there
are so many people on campus that are really racist, to be honest.”
Arielle Brown is a Ph.D. student and part of the Sankofa Team within the university counseling
center. She has seen an increase in post-election, race-related stress based on her current outreach.
“More people are feeling more marginalized than ever. People are feeling more th
reatened than never. And these pieces come with race-related stress,” Brown said.
Race-related stress can include emotions such as anger, frustration and even depression,
according to Brown.
Leon Dixon, junior in Integrative Biology, said that being a Bl
ack student on campus, especially post-election, has brought those emotions to the forefront. He said the recent pulling off of a Muslim student’s hijab, by a man who was arrested on preliminary charges of a hate crime the day after the election, really made an impact on him.
“It’s stuff like that that scares the hell out of me. My white friends are like, “You know man it’s
sad.” I’m like, yeah it’s sad, but not for you. You don’t understand why I’m sad.”
Tiniah Gant, a Black student, spoke of her exper ience with a “very racist” white roommate at
Knox College, a predominantly white institution. She said that her roommate felt comfortable
using the n-word around her, and that she and her friends expressed racist sentiments.
“I didn’t really feel like it was a safe environment for me. I became very depressed,” Gant said. “I
would get up from around her, but I didn’t go to class. It sounds really bad, but I didn’t want to
be around white people because I just had anger and was getting frustrated.”
Gant eventually transferred to Dominican University in River Forest, IL because of the
experience. “It took an emotional toll on me,” she said.
Brown said that race-related stress can not only have mental and physiological effects, such as
upset stomach, headaches or elevated blood pressure, but it can also have a significant effect
on academic performance. Lack of ability to focus is one reason students may not do well.
“Let’s say someone has to experience racism so they have this race-related stress piece of
being depressed and feeling hopeless, which a lot of students feeling right now,” Brown said. “It
can be hard to focus on your academics.”
She also said that students of color often feel “imposter syndrome,” which can be described as
self-doubt in performance abilities or intellectual capability in comparison to peers.
Despite difficulties, students find a variety of ways to cope with race-related stress. Some students report that acknowledging the stress as race-related is one of the biggest helps. Trying to ignore it or deny the experience and its effect can be worse in the long run, Kareem Rogers, senior in business, said. He also said that activism is an important coping mechanism for him.
“Even though I don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything about it. If I want to see the
change, I’ve got to be part of the change that makes it happen,” Rogers said.
Brown said that activism can be a helpful coping mechanism, but also picking and choosing
battles is important. She said that students do not have to have an “all or nothing” attitude when
it comes to participating in activism or defending themselves against racist remarks or
“Sometimes people want to learn from you and sometimes people want to antagonize you,”
Brown said. She also recommended that students limit social media, which has a lot of negative news that may cause second-hand trauma. Finally, she said that incorporating self-care is important, whether it be jogging, listening to music or watching Netflix.
“That self-care component part is the piece that’s most missing,” Brown said. “I believe that
when we experience race-related stress and when we observe racism, when we have that self-
care and it is consistent with our daily lives, we will be able to handle these things much better.”
*The views expressed in this report are the authors’ alone and are not necessarily shared by the “Hear My Voice…” organization or publications or the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.