The transition to any new school can be a rough one; however, when it involves a dramatic cultural shift, it can be even more challenging. Children in the Austin community often make these transitions, transferring from grade school to middle school, middle school to high school, and high school to college. Although many African-American children who move from a predominantly black school to a predominantly white school make smooth transitions, some experience culture shock — everything from feeling different to feeling isolated to experiencing the consequences of racism.

For some black children, predominantly white institutions, or PWIs, can serve as a source of frustration or disruption when it comes to academic achievement; students who don’t feel connected to a school oftentimes disconnect from the knowledge and academic resources needed to perform well. To prevent this, use the tips below to help your child make an effortless transition to any school, despite the demographics. 

Your child’s feelings

Children may experience negative feelings when going from a predominantly black school to a predominantly white school. These feelings may include contempt as they devalue their own cultural experiences; loneliness, due to feeling disconnected from students with different cultural experiences; and inferiority, due to not knowing the cultural norms of the dominant culture. Ask your child how his transition is going? Then listen and empathize with his experiences. If he’s distressed, ask how he plans on handling these feelings. Listen to his answers, then ask him to evaluate the effectiveness of his strategies. Are they helpful for both him and those at his school.

Support services

Many schools now provide in-house support to minority students. Find those services and be proactive. ChicagoPublic School’s NorthsideCollegePreparatoryHigh School, for example, has a Black Student Union to assist and unite African-American students, who make up approximately 9% of the school population. Most four-year PWIs have classrooms, houses, or buildings that cater to African-American students. These spaces often run programs like talent shows, lecture series, and academic workshops. African-American students often attend these events to retreat from normal class settings, where they are often the only black student. These events also allow black students to connect with other students who have similar experiences on campus. If you are not sure of where to look in your child’s school, start by contacting the dean of students or counseling center at your child’s high school and the student development center at your child’s college.

Faculty of color

Research shows that students who feel connected to faculty and staff tend stay in, and graduate from, school. Faculty of color serve as role models to students of color. Their presence shows students that it’s possible to attain a degree, participate in scholarly research, and/or hold high credentials in their field. African-American students should see and interact with faculty of color in order to have a model to strive for. Once your child is at a predominantly white institution, make a point to identify African-American faculty members. Have your child reach out to faculty for research opportunities, informational interviews, or mentorships. Such connections can help students feel less isolated and more motivated to do well.

Honest conversations

Cross-cultural relationships at PWIs can be revolutionary because they cause students to know and empathize with individuals from different cultural backgrounds. Allow your child to take advantage of this opportunity by encouraging friendships with white as well as black students. It is through such friendships that honest conversations can take place, such as conversations about the N-word and racial profiling. When black students attend PWIs, they have the unique opportunity to help white students realize the micro-aggressions, or unintentional racial slights that students from the majority group may make without thinking, and the relationships that form make white students more open to receiving the critique.

Be proactive about garnering support, and then give your child the opportunity to utilize the resources and the relationships.