Finding myself and my academic power as a Black queer student

the voice and vision of a new generation
Image credit: Briannah Hill

Finding myself and my academic power as a Black queer student

July 23, 2019

During the first three years of my college career, I was struggling. I came into school as an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major with hopes of going to medical school and becoming a doctor. At some point, though, I started to lose motivation to continue pursuing my dream of science. I didn’t want to be on campus anymore and deal with the difficult classes. As time went on, I realized one of the biggest issues I dealt with was not seeing anyone who looked like me in lecture halls or in my department. These were the hardest three years I've experienced.

My school is a predominately white institution (or a PWI). I have the privilege to say that I am Black, I am queer, I am non-binary, and I am a second-generation college graduate. But at my school it was hard to make friends who were people of color or queer folks, or to even find them on a campus as large as mine. I felt lost most of the time. Even though I had friends in and outside of class, I still didn’t feel good.

During this troubling time, I started taking Ethnic Studies classes and I fell in love with them! I was learning about my history as a Black person and I was seeing people who looked like me and who were interested in social justice like me. I was also attending intersectional lectures that helped me understand more about my queer and trans identity. But most importantly, I was given a space where I wasn’t forced to pick between my identities as Black and queer. I knew I had to change my major, and so on the last day of finals week during my junior year, I did.

While on campus, I became empowered through my Ethnic Studies classes. I became a prominent student activist on campus and worked with student groups like CU’s Black Student Alliance, African Student Association, UMSA y MECHA, and my own group: Queer Trans People of Color. This work allowed me to make more friends and be rewarded for my activism, like becoming a GLAAD Campus Ambassador. I got to go to conferences like Creating Change, NCORE, and even had the chance to present twice at my school’s Transforming Gender Conference. Being involved in these communities helped me stay in school, pursue higher education, and just have more fun on campus! I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am today without those spaces.

I recently graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder where I received my Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies with an emphasis in Blaqueer (Black queer) and Transgender Studies. I also received a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Because my journey was tough but worth it, I want to give some advice to students of color and LGBTQIA+ students reading this who are thinking about education beyond high school:

1. Find your squad (I can’t stress this enough!) Find people who are willing to fight for you on campus. Whether that be on-campus resources, your favorite professors, student groups, or that one group of friends who you can complain to, cry to, and laugh with when y’all know you need to be studying. This will set you up for success, I promise!

2. Community colleges are just as valuable as Ivy League or prestigious colleges. There is nothing wrong with going to community college! We’re all going to school for the same piece of paper stating we finished something more than a high school diploma/GED.

3. Explore outside your major. There are endless possibilities on a college campus! Pick up a minor or a certificate (if it’s affordable). Plus, who knows what you’ll find or get yourself into. You might just change your major!

4. This is the last piece of advice, and the most important one that I never took, but wish I did: Take a break if you need one. There is nothing wrong with taking a break from college and coming back to it, or not coming back to it and doing something else! College will always be there if you want to return. Take care of your mental and physical health. Academic burnout is REAL, so take steps to avoid it if you can.

I am proud to share a little bit about how college was for me, some struggles, and some pretty rad things I got to experience! I hope they can help you, too. And now, as an alumnus of CU Boulder, it’s only natural to end this by saying: SKO BUFFS!

Briannah Hill is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and recent graduate of University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in Ethnic Studies. They were the co-president of the QTPOC club on campus where they advocated mainly for queer and trans youth of color. Briannah also served as GLAAD's Lead Membership Organizer for the Campus Ambassador Program.

the voice and vision of a new generation