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You Belong Write Here: Journal Prompts for Feeling Othered

By Adia, a Writing Coach

I remember it as if it happened yesterday. I was a young, eager, and newly minted 21-year old in a Master’s program. During my orientation, I remember feeling so accomplished to attend one of the top schools in my field and an institution I could only dream and write about as a child (talk about manifesting!). As I walked into a large lecture hall, I floated into an ocean of white faces. And I was the only Black fish. It wasn’t until my heart raced that I realized the waters I was now in. Up until this point, all my other oceans, rivers, and lakes were so familiar. I swam in predominantly Black communities, paddled through predominantly Black schools, and backstroked my way through programs where I was the big fish. The big kahuna. In this classroom, in this space, however,…I was small. I felt small and othered, too, as would be made apparent very soon.

Me graduating from my Masters’ program

My two years during this program ended up being characterized by endless challenges, loneliness, a professor blatantly telling me to change my career path, and eventually…graduation. While I made it across the stage with the help of a few faculty and staff members who took me under their wing, it wasn’t without the recognition that graduate school can be and is terrifying. I was just one of many students of color everywhere who experience psychological, social, and academic challenges at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and most importantly, othering.

Othering, in this context, includes race-related stressors such as racial discrimination, prejudice, culture shock, and not quite finding a social group that fits. Such stressors, if not coped with, have the potential to lead to worse academic performance, psychological well-being, and social adjustment outcomes. Students of color around the nation are attending PWIs in greater numbers each and every year. If you are a student, it is increasingly important to consider the commonly experienced challenges, triumphs, and substantial alienation you may face and how you can thrive in towers, castles, and waters not built for you.

Enter journaling.

Anger. Depression. Vulnerability. Distrust. These are just a fraction of the emotions that are necessary for surviving the oceans of graduate school as a student of color. Our own narrative inquiries, the stories we shape about ourselves and our experiences, go on to further shape our ideas about our education, our worth, sense of belonging, and the complexity of coping with racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc. When was the last time you told yourself a story? For some, it could be when you were an emotional teen. For others, maybe it was a diary you used to keep. And for many, perhaps you told yourself whatever was told around you. When you find yourself in the middle of a new life chapter, it’s important to remember to be intentional about your story now. Journaling is a beneficial, beautiful, and powerful way to remind yourself: you belong write here.

Me hard at work on my journal

Writing is and has been a liberating practice for me, constantly reminding me that in a world that already whips us, I don’t have to whip (or discipline) myself. It provides me the space to be open and vulnerable with the one person guaranteed not to judge me: ME. I’ve been journaling since I was 10. At first, it functioned as a diary with all of my adolescent secrets and worries, but now it is therapy for my adult anxieties. As a measure of accountability, I try to set aside time each day, either in the morning or evening, to write something. Anything. As a result, (when I’m consistent) journaling helps me to feel relief, ease, and creativity. After all, my entries are not just me talking to myself. Sometimes, it’s poetry, lists, and prayers. This is another reason why I enjoy this practice so much.

Because no matter what, it helps me to remind myself…I belong write here, too.

Journal Prompts

  • What does being ‘othered’ feel like for me right now? Where do I feel this in my body?
  • What is the story I am telling myself about being ‘othered’ right now?
  • What does a new story look like?
  • What advice would you give to a friend feeling othered?
  • What do I need to hear when I feel like I’m lonely and not good enough?
  • What is something I can gift myself right now in this moment?
  • Is there something I can do to get support or community right now? If so, what does it look like?
  • What do I need?
  • What does my ideal community look like?
  • Put together a list of people you want to be friends with. Explain why each person is on the list.
  • Would you like to make new friends? Why or why not? What would it take to meet them?
  • Write 10 positive things about yourself.
  • In a world that already whips you, what would life look like if you didn’t whip yourself?
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