Campus nature scene - picnic table in open space

Racism and Discrimination

Dealing with the Psychological Toll of Racism and Discrimination

Racism, or any act of discrimination, is harmful in how it degrades you or makes you feel degraded. There are some things in life that happen to us that we didn’t do anything to bring on and that we don’t deserve.

Common reactions students have if they experience discrimination include:

  • Feeling fearful, angry, helpless, hopeless, or sad.
  • Difficulty concentrating or feeling distracted.
  • Difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.
  • A change in appetite (loss of appetite or hungry all the time).
  • Emotional numbing or lack of interest in things you used to enjoy.
  • Feeling isolated or like an outsider in one’s own world.
  • Pressure to “prove oneself” to defy negative stereotypes.
  • Stress related to being seen as a “representative” of one’s group.
  • Unsure or confused about whether you are being treated differently because of race or ethnicity.

We understand that you are the expert on your own experience and know your needs better than anyone. We hope you will be kind to yourself and let us at CAPS know how we can help. Here are some tips that we hope you will find helpful:

Begin by affirming yourself and your values.
  • Fully recognize the wrongdoing and your feelings about it, as you would with someone you care about, by not minimizing or ignoring what happened.
  • Say aloud the wrong that was done, even if only to yourself at first, rather than taking it that you must suffer in silence about being mistreated.
  • Hold those who did wrong accountable for their actions rather than self-blaming that somehow you must be in the wrong or have done something that brought this about, or resigning that you just have to allow for this sort of behavior.
Practice taking care of yourself.
  • Choose to engage in activities that restore you and make you stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually.
  • For many, spending time with family and loved ones is the ultimate in being loved for who you are and provides refuge from those who are blind to you as an individual.
  • Take a break and spend time doing things that bring you joy and satisfaction. Choose to watch a favorite movie or show, go play a favorite sport, engage in a favorite hobby, or just spend time with those who make you laugh.
  • Nurture your spiritual belief system. Doing so can provide you with a sense of peace and affirm your personal values. You may even feel less isolated by speaking with or by attending services with others who share your spiritual beliefs.
  • Beware of relying upon alcohol, drugs, or any other potentially harmful activities, for how these make you feel better in the moment. However, it may be at the risk of harming your awareness of what harms you and what you want to do about it.
  • Avoid toxic media and messengers that elicit feelings of anger. Exposing yourself to angry messages may elicit strong feelings that interfere with your academic performance or ability to engage with others.
  • Having a strong ethnic/racial identity can also serve as a protective factor in the face of discrimination. Being involved in ethnic/racial student organizations or communities can create a positive, affirmable, sustainable sense of self.
  • In short, be a part of communities that affirm and reaffirm your belonging and value, and who accept and support you.
Practice mindful engagement.
  • Find ways to stand up for yourself and others. Whether you use political activism, participate in advocacy groups, or give your opinions in discussions and writings, you get to choose what elevates you and your values over all things racist.
  • Pick which battles you fight and how hard. In doing so, make sure that you utilize your best judgment. Taking a stand, such as saying something about how you expect to be treated, will likely change the way you feel. However, recognize and appreciate that standing up for yourself and feeling better can also involve refusing to go along as if nothing happened, ending further participation with those who offend, or even protesting the wrongdoing in your own head without saying anything until you decide what if anything you want to say or do about it.
  • Seek out leaders and messengers who encourage and nurture you so that you do not lose yourself in the struggle.
Recruit allies.
  • Let others know what has happened to you. Racist acts exclude people and their sense of belonging. It is all too easy to react by withdrawing and wind up so isolated that you cannot see how you belong in your community or in the world.
  • Talk with people who care about what you are going through, and who will help you get through it. This can be with friends, family, faith leaders, professors, staff, counselors and mentors.
  • At UWF, you are not alone. If you need a confidential space to sort out what is happening to you, the counselors at CAPS are a wonderful free resource. Make an appointment and come talk to one of our caring counselors.

Coping with Race-related Stress

Keya Wiggins, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified Group Psychotherapist

What Can You Do if You Witness Prejudice at UWF?

You can become an ally. An ally is a person who does not belong to a particular social group but is actively engaged in advocating for and supporting that community. Students who are in under-represented groups can also be an ally to students of other under-represented groups. Being an ally is every person’s responsibility. 

Tips for being an effective ally:

  • Get Educated.
    You might not have to have a Ph.D. in ethnic studies or be a historian, but making an effort to learn the history and current issues relevant to the communities you support is an important part of being an ally. Getting educated includes learning about the way that power, privilege, and oppression have impacted others’ lives, as well as your own.
  • Speak Up (But Speak For Yourself).
    When you see racism and other forms of oppression rearing their heads in your day-to-day life, say something. Too often, people from marginalized groups are left holding all the responsibility for educating others and speaking up about discrimination and bias, but this is everyone’s issue. At the same time, avoid speaking for other groups of people (which can be inaccurate, reductionist, or even unintentionally condescending), and stick to sharing your own opinions and viewpoints.
  • Know the Difference Between Intent and Impact.
    It’s easy to recognize overt discrimination, but it can be harder to recognize bias when it is subtle and when the other person may not have realized they were acting in a biased way. “Microaggressions” are, by definition, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group".
  • Unintended Negative Impact.
    Allies recognize that well-intended actions can sometimes have an unintentional negative or hurtful impact. They are willing to listen non-defensively and try to understand the perspectives of others when they express discomfort, hurt, or anger.
  • Challenge the Behavior, Not the Person.
    Accusing another person of being a racist or of being prejudiced automatically puts them on the defensive, shutting them down and ending the conversation. Encourage thoughtfulness and dialogue by addressing biased behaviors and language, without escalating into hostility and name-calling.
  • Be Willing to Make Mistakes.
    When racism and prejudice are part of the culture, we all absorb beliefs and attitudes that are shaped by that reality. Our actions will sometimes reflect this despite our best efforts, meaning that we all make mistakes from time to time, and can unwittingly cause anger or hurt. Don’t panic or despair. Be willing to genuinely listen, learn, engage, and apologize. Assume that making mistakes is part of the learning process of being an ever more effective ally. Be prepared for flare-ups of disappointment and criticism. Learn from your mistakes and do not retreat.
  • Be a 100% Ally. No Deals. No Strings Attached.
    Everyone’s oppression needs to be opposed unconditionally. Humans need to be concerned about other people’s liberation issues, and it is in your own interest to do so and to be an ally. 

Know That You Are Appreciated

You took the time to read this page and get educated. That is a step toward helping us make UWF the kind of campus where everyone feels safe and respected.

Special thanks to California State University. Information on this page is a modified adaptation of information from their website. 

Access Campus Resources

While stopping oppression is everyone’s job at UWF, there are some specific departments and groups that are generally a good place to start when you need to consult. 

  • The Office of Equity and Diversity: The mission of the Office of Equity and Diversity at UWF is to educate students, faculty, staff, and the Northwest Florida Community about the value of diversity in all forms. The unit supports efforts across instructional sites that foster a climate of inclusive excellence. They strive to implement high-impact programming that creates opportunities for cross-cultural learning, understanding and engagement.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services: Counseling and Psychological Services provides consultation for anyone who experiences discrimination or has witnessed discrimination. CAPS can help you to evaluate options for addressing your concerns. CAPS also provides culturally affirming counseling services for anyone who has been impacted by bias. 

Additional Resources

To set up a consultation or counseling appointment, please contact Counseling and Psychological Services at 850.474.2420 or visit our center in Building 960, Suite 200A, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to set up an appointment. 

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