Guest Blogger: Mazvita Chikomo (’22)
Mazvita, a junior in the department from Zimbabwe, is a member of the African Student Union (Housing Coordinator), has participated in the college’s AMRE program (Applied Methods Research Experience), has been a Course Design Assistant for Dr. Wiles, and is currently an APEX Peer Mentor assigned to Dr. Judge’s FYS class.
This week, in light of #BlackInGeo Week, I get the opportunity to talk about my experience as a Black student in the Earth Sciences Department. In no shape or form can I talk about the universal experience of being Black in the department, but I can talk about my personal experience and journey.
When I think about my journey through the Earth Sciences Department, I think of times being alone, and then I think of strength, growth, and family. As a freshman, I did not really realize I was one of a few Black people in the major because introductory classes were flooded with students from different majors. But once I started to pursue higher courses for the major, I began to see fewer and fewer people who looked like me. Because of this, I initially found it difficult to insert myself in my classes. I would do the required work and pass the required exams, but I was scared to actively be engaged because I felt I had the duty to speak for many. It was daunting to think that I was responsible for bringing an under-represented perspective. And I was scared to make a mistake, so perfection was the only level of excellency that I had to strive for.
I thought the secret to never make a mistake is to never actively try right, but soon I realized it was not realistic for me to set a goal to always be my best self. I did not have to carry the weight on my shoulders; when I came to class, I needed to just be myself. By not actively participating, I realized I was doing a disservice to myself because I did not give myself the grace of learning from my failures. And I did not allow my peers to hear my perspective and my voice, not the voice of a Black girl from Zimbabwe, but the voice of Mazvita. I did not have to come to class with all the answers. I also did not have to answer every question. I just had to be me. This journey of self-discovery in the department was made easier by the lovely faculty of the department. They were always encouraging me to never shy away from participating. They gave me the confidence to lead discussions when I wanted to and were constantly there to talk to me if I wanted to. I also appreciate my peers because when I did want to speak, they gave me the space to have my voice heard. When the pandemic began, the first people to reach out to me were members of the department. But this is not to say everything in the department is sun and roses; we still have a lot of growth needed in the department. It would be nice to one day see Black faculty in the department. Sometimes the reassurance a student needs is being able to see people who look like them in positions of leadership.
My dream is to see an Earth Sciences Department rich in diversity. If I were to give any advice for Black students and minorities in the department, never be afraid to let your voice be heard. There is power in your voice and mind but be sure to grow in your own time and space. There is no rush to be like anyone else. Be you! This can start by setting small goals for yourself; maybe today you’ll raise your hand, or perhaps tomorrow you’ll say hi to someone you’ve never talked to in class. I myself am still growing and learning and look forward to meeting and seeing more Black people in the department.