Kayla Thompson is a junior political science major from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
I would say my racial identity did not become a big factor for me until I got to college. Don’t get me wrong, I was confronted everyday with the fact that I was not a part of the majority, but I chose to approach the black part of my identity with indifference. There were so many other descriptive terms that made up who I was that being an African American woman did not feel extremely important; if anything, it felt like I was stating the obvious. It didn’t say who I was as a person or what mattered to me.
Progressing through my education, I found I was constantly in situations where I was one of the few, if not the only, black person in the room. It happened so often that I started making a game of it, which took any lingering feelings of discomfort and turned them into amusement. It’s difficult to describe what it felt like being in these rooms, but it was somewhat analogous to being an outsider. I was the “extra” puzzle piece left in the box that somehow connected to the rest of the puzzle, but nobody wants to take apart the puzzle to find where it fits, so the piece remains in the box.
I tried so hard to find “my people” but that path always ended up feeling forced. Feeling defeated, I took refuge in a place I knew I was welcomed – my family – and that became the cornerstone of my identity. Growing up a military brat, which led to moving around frequently, I learned to engage in seasonal relationships. When that became difficult to navigate as well, I started compartmentalizing my friendships so that no one person knew the whole me, only that particular part I wanted them to see. My family became my outlet and I could confide in them about anything and everything.
When I came to Baylor, I no longer had my family, my safe place with me. I could call and Facetime, but they were adjusting to their new life, so I had to do the same. Freshman year in college was definitely a game changer. It was the first time I had a real job and threw myself into it mercilessly. I went to class then work, and that was my coping mechanism. I am grateful for all the things I learned working in the Student Union Building or SUB for short. Among those things, I got to know the Aramark staff and other Baylor students pretty well. One of the things I noticed was both the staff and students who worked in the SUB were predominantly people of color. On a campus that is roughly 70% white, the staff and part-time students were mostly African American and Hispanic. It made me realize just how much of a privilege it was to be on Baylor’s campus; if it were not for my dad and his 26 years of military service, I would not be here today. He opened doors so I could have the opportunity to pursue higher education at a top private institution.
At Baylor, I see the polarization of race and the implicit impact it has on minority students. Sometimes one is left with the question, “Am I truly welcomed?” I can proudly say after 2 ½ years of being a part of the Baylor family that while things are not perfect, I’m glad I’m here. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many great men and women across this campus. I’m an African American woman during a time of discrimination against both women and people of color, but I am fortunate to have a wonderful support system. I’ve come to realize that each day is not promised, but as long as I continue to have breath in my lungs, I will approach each day with the hope that I am a light to all those I meet and that I am one of many instruments of change.