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Black people don't try to fit in; we create our own space

Pictured above is the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's first Black graduate student organization (BGSO) - executive board. Pictured above are six leaders who saw a crucial need for the establishment of this organization that could have the potential to shift the culture at UMBC in the next years to come.

How did BGSO come to be? For those who do not know, I am a doctoral student at UMBC. Yes, I'm finna be here for quite sometime. I wasn't very open about this with friends and family, but I struggled during my first semester. Struggled with finding a safe space, with balancing work and personal life, with just being a graduate student. That struggle done got to my grades and I thought it was over for me. I started googling "what can I do with a bachelor's of science degree in human development?" Imposter syndrome got a hold of me, and I was so confused as to why I was academically successful at Penn State, but not at UMBC. Penn State is so much more whiter, it's in the middle of nowhere, and there's NO corner stores (ugh). After some critical, deep thinking, I finally came to a conclusion. Even though Penn State had the whitest of white, we had a strong Black community. I had a safe space, which was the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. I was involved with organizations, like the Black Student Union. I couldn't seem to find that at UMBC as a graduate student.

During my first semester, despite being at a very diverse institution, I was usually the only Black graduate student in my classes of roughly 7 people. When I encountered microaggressions from my instructor who asked me how did my hair grow so long over the weekend in front of the entire class, there wasn't another Black woman (or even a Black man) in the room to act as a bystander or be in solidarity with me. I was falling into depression and I truly did not want to be in that academic space any longer. I will always prioritize my mental health over any degree on any day!

During my second semester, I met an amazing and dope Black woman named Dr. Lee who is now part of my support system. I vented to her about my frustration about how there are no Black graduate organizations on this campus. She looked at me and said, "why don't you start one?" I felt so relieved when she asked me because 1) for some reason I felt like that wasn't an option for me and 2) she gave me the assurance that I belong here and I should do whatever it takes to feel like I belong. SO, during the end of my second semester, into the summer, and eventually into my third semester, I worked with three Black women who are staff on campus to form UMBC's first Black graduate student organization. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it and is still worth it! So many Black graduate students were shocked that there wasn't a BGSO on campus already, but we made it happen in 2019.

Here's my challenge for you all: in whatever setting you occupy and spend most of your time in, take up space if you feel like you need to. In the face of exclusion, do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you belong, that you are capable, and that you are the chosen one. Create your own space! Whether that be starting an organization, support groups, potlucks, etc. Most things that are real started with an imagination. So it starts with you. :)

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