Running Alone- Succeeding in Undergrad as a Minority

Usain-Bolt-VectorThroughout childhood, I was constantly among the few minority students in my class.  Beyond that, more often than not, I have been the only black male.  Thinking back to my undergrad years, there were times that I looked for guidance and didn’t know where to get it from.  People in my classes did not look like me and I found it difficult to relate with them.  This was very frustrating for an 18 year old boy with aspirations to join the medical field.   Over the years I have become numb to how challenging it was.    I have forgotten that it took many hours of contemplating methods of success to reach my current point in life.  None of this came by chance; it was all tactfully strategized and carried out to a ‘T’.

In discussing with others, it is difficult to explain what it felt like to be the black boy in class who wants to do well in order to get into medical school.  DiverseMedicine.org did not exist and there were few ways for me to network with people like those on this site.  Few of my black friends were premed and often did not have the same drive to study that I did.  I could not go to them for support because we weren’t in the same classes.  As a result of being in different classes, the norm was my workload and study demand would be more intense than theirs and when it came time to hang out and I couldn’t do it as often as they could.  I would get the pressure of,  “come on Dale, you study too much, take a break”.  Certainly, taking a break is well warranted, but not on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night to attend the Kappa, Delta, Alpha, and AKA parties.  It simply was not feasible for me to do that and get the grades necessary for medical school matriculation.

Because I was one of few minorities in my premedical classes I had to strategize methods of success; ways to run alone and still win the race.  Something that is of utmost importance for our DiverseMedicine members to understand is that you can spend all of your time studying and still fail!  Studying for a test is only useful if you are studying the subject matter that will be on the test.  I was fortunate in the sense that even prior to college I had been educated on the simple fact that other individuals would be privy to information that I would not have access to (e.g. sororities/fraternities sharing both tangible and intangible resources).  From the start they would have an advantage over me.  Knowing this ahead of time allowed me to develop a game plan before the whistle blew.

My strategy was simple and it worked.  Because I had no classmates or mentors to reliably obtain the resources needed for success, I decided to obtain them directly from my teachers via a 2 part method.  First of all, I made sure to sit front and center in every class.  This brought wanted attention to me.  I wanted the professors to know I was a serious student; a student who sat in the front and would not fall asleep during his or her lecture.  A student who was not afraid to ask questions that most of the class probably wanted to ask but did not have the courage to do so.  This made the second part easy.  Part 2 entailed going to their office hours with my notes one week before test day and asking my professors what areas to focus on.  Because they already knew I was a serious student (and it is very easy to remember the one black male in the class), they received my questions with respect.

Running the race alone can be difficult at times and it is essential that you utilize the people around you to the best of your abilities.  Though it is challenging to be a minority in a 300+ student lecture hall, you have to remain motivated with the understanding that if you make it, there will be one more person in the field of Medicine to help raise up the next generation!  Let us not have a pity party constantly complaining of our disadvantages and why there are so few of us.  Rather let us be strategic in our approaches to success and though we may run alone at times, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

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