“I don’t belong here”: Students of color speak on overcoming imposter syndrome
April 26, 2023
I don’t deserve to be here. I’m not good enough. I will never be good enough.
Imposter syndrome shows up in various shapes and forms, but the usual targets of this anxiety-inducing monster are people of color, women, LGBTQ or any person with a marginalized identity. It is both a societal obstacle and an internal struggle.
Imposter syndrome is not just another word for feeling insecure or self-conscious. It’s a fear-driven sense of doubt in everything you have accomplished and attributing your achievements to luck instead of your own abilities, according to the American Psychological Association.
In other words, the APA states that imposter syndrome makes you feel like you are unworthy of success, you are an imposter, and sooner or later everyone will know the truth: you are a phony.
This predominantly affects people of color who have historically been given fewer opportunities due to prejudice and bias.
Imposter syndrome is an “inevitable feeling that all people of color or (members of a) marginalized community get,” Vanessa Valencia Lopez, third-year marketing major with a minor in public health at Oregon State University, said. Lopez works as marketing lead for Orange Media Network, which Beaver’s Digest is a part of.
During her second year at OSU, Lopez got involved with the People of Color in Business club after seeing an Instagram post for it. At the time, Lopez stated that she was “feeling bleak” regarding the racial demographics in the College of Business, and being a part of this club meant a great deal to her. Lopez is now the co-president of the POC in Business club.
“Despite my handful of qualifications for a lot of positions that I have been put in, I can’t help but feel like I don’t belong there,” Lopez said.
This unique kind of fear can be exhaustive for anyone. A person of color in a predominantly white space can feel an extra layer of pressure and experience a great deal of anxiety.
Lopez remarked that she discovered imposter syndrome late in high school or early in college, which helped her feel able to identify those feelings until she found out what imposter syndrome was.
Lopez said her friends who are also people of color shared her feelings.
“I just thought that we were all just insecure,” Lopez said, laughing. “I thought that we were all just underqualified or something.”
Edgar Cazarez, a second-year business administration major, said he felt he didn’t have much in common with his peers at OSU.
“(My Classmates) would talk about stuff like skiing and I’m like ‘I don’t ski!’” Cazarez said. “It’s the little things you know… (I felt) I didn’t have (many) common things that I could talk about with my white classmates, for example.”
After starting at OSU, in order to connect with his cultural heritage, Cazarez noticed “(he) started listening to more of the music that (his) parents listened to.”
Lopez also said she started listening to more Hispanic music when she came to OSU, perhaps because was “longing for that space” where she felt like she truly belonged.
“White people are everywhere here!” Lopez said. “If you’re not making an active effort to stay connected (with your cultural heritage) you’re gonna lose so much of your identity.”
Perhaps more connection with people who share your identity can help ease the impacts of imposter syndrome.
“It’s hard to celebrate myself,” Lopez said. “When I return back home to my parents who obviously did not have a college education and they’re so proud of me.” But when she returns to OSU, Lopez said she would start feeling like she’s not “doing enough.”
Lopez and Cazarez said imposter syndrome is caused by internal external factors.
“I think it’s a little (of) both,” said Cazarez. “I think it’s me struggling to accept my own position of where I’m at.”
On the other hand, Cazarez said pressure can come in from the person’s community. Some of his friends did not attend university like he did.
“They see you doing these things that they weren’t able to do and so you have the added pressure,” Cazarez said.
It feels like “you’re failing to live up to expectations, like you have to be perfect,” Cazarez said.
People of color have been trapped and suffocating in the stereotypical boxes that society has made for them and it can be incredibly difficult to escape.
Lopez said imposter syndrome stems from society’s racism and the abundance of prejudice and bias.
“After so many years of blatant racism, now it’s manifested itself into our internal (feelings),” she said.
If the world keeps telling you that you can’t do something or you are not qualified to be present in a certain space, you gradually start to believe it and it becomes embedded into your intrusive thoughts. I’m a failure. I can’t do this.
“You have to come to terms with who you are as an individual,” Cazarez said. “The main problem with imposter syndrome is you’re not accepting of yourself.”
Embracing what makes you stand out could also be a start to overcoming feelings of not belonging.
“I don’t fit into the environment and I like that!” Cazarez added.
It’s important for people of color to understand that what makes us different is also what makes us unique and qualified to bring new things to the table. Understand that you’re not alone in feeling you are underqualified or just not good enough for a certain task. Embracing who you are can take some of the pressure off. It’s not our responsibility to change the minds of the Karens of the world. You have nothing to prove to anyone.