This illustration depicts a BIPOC person standing out among a crowd of people feeling unsure and confused. Attending a predominately white institution as a person of color can be difficult. (Teresa Aguilera, OMN Illustrator)
This illustration depicts a BIPOC person standing out among a crowd of people feeling unsure and confused. Attending a predominately white institution as a person of color can be difficult.

Teresa Aguilera, OMN Illustrator

Culture shocked: Experiencing Oregon State as a predominantly white institution

April 25, 2023

Between the vast contributions to STEM research and invigorating weekend PAC-12 games, Oregon State University is known for a variety of things, but for many students of color, the school is also seen as a predominantly white institution.  

PWIs are everywhere throughout the United States and are widely recognized as the standard for college participation. Many people might not even recognize the acronym without context, but for most people of color, it is not only within their vocabulary but also a heavily considered factor when deciding where to go to school. 

“I didn’t know what a PWI was when I started college,” Carina Buzo Tipton, OSU alum and current assistant director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Education, said. “As a first-generation college student, I was under the assumption that college would just be like going to the next grade level, like going from sixth grade to middle school, or middle school to high school, high school to college. And as a first-generation college student, I didn’t know that you were supposed to visit the colleges that you were thinking about going to. Because the large majority of colleges and universities are predominantly white institutions, it also meant that the college that I chose to go to was a predominantly white institution.”

Diverse in its opportunities but not so much in its people, many students are blissfully unaware of the shock they might experience finally stepping foot on OSU’s Corvallis campus. 

Culture shock, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.” 

For POC coming into a college or professional setting, the stakes of being underrepresented or stigmatized are increasingly higher, and PWIs historically have the habit of incorporating white culture and beliefs into their operating systems. When attending these types of institutions, there can be quite a bit of culture shock and not much of a community for POC to rely on.  

“As a person of color, I identify as Chicana or Mexican or brown,” Buzo Tipton said. “I didn’t realize how much diversity I saw in the people around me growing up until I went to a predominantly white institution. I’m from a city that is less than 20% white and around 40% Latinx with a lot of different Asian and Black diasporas making up the rest of the population, so I had a lot of different food, music and cultural celebrations, cultural identifiers/ markers and high holidays that I was surrounded by as a kid. I didn’t know I was surrounded by so much diversity until I left.”

When she came to OSU as a graduate student, Tipton said they didn’t feel there were a lot of ways to connect with other graduate students of color.

“And the higher you go up in higher education, the fewer people of color you’ll see statistically, unfortunately,” Tipton said. “As a student, it meant that while I was in the classroom learning at OSU, I was also having to create my own understandings and boundaries. I had to make boundaries, find food and groceries, and build communities that would sustain me. It felt like I was doing double work which I think is often an experience of most POC at PWIs. We are expected to do not just well in the classroom but excel. We’re also asked to be accountable to all of the communities that we hold back at home or around us while navigating overt or covert racism inside our classrooms and personal lives outside the classroom.”

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