Fall semester topics

Racial discrimination (Coping with race-related stress)

The first year of college marks a significant milestone in your transition to adulthood. As you settle into a campus routine, you will most likely be tasked with adjusting to being separated from your family, forming new friendships, and coping with a more rigorous academic curriculum. Although it is often exhilarating to gain a new sense of independence and responsibility during this process, at times you may find it difficult to juggle the demands of your social and academic life. Unfortunately, among students of color, the common stressors of the college experience are often compounded by the burden of race-related stress, stereotype threat, and the imposter phenomenon. The purpose of this brochure is to define race-related stress and the impact it can have on the academic and social success of students of color. Additionally, it will provide tips on how to effectively cope with race-related stress and maximize one's academic potential.

What is the Imposter Phenomenon?
The Imposter Phenomenon can occur if you do not believe that you are as intellectually capable as your peers or have the skills necessary to fulfill the requirements of your role as a student. These beliefs may lead you to dismiss any academic or career-related successes as based upon external factors such as beginner's luck, extra work effort, networking with influential people, or filling a perceived quota (e.g., "I was only offered the internship because they needed more female interns"). The Imposter Phenomenon can occur across gender, racial/ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, and careers. Therefore, if you suffer from feelings of inadequacy, you are not alone. There are surgeons, lawyers, architects, graduate students, accomplished novelists, performers, historians, and professors who also struggle with the Imposter Phenomenon.

Effects of the Imposter Phenomenon

Sadness Guilt
Life Dissatisfaction
Denial of Competence

Many people who experience the Imposter Phenomenon believe that they are the only ones who have these beliefs or feelings. They live in constant fear of the "truth" of their capabilities being discovered by their peers, superiors, students, partners, etc. and, therefore, work very hard to succeed and gain recognition while wearing a mask of self-confidence. People with imposter feelings are often skilled at convincing others that they are confident, self-assured, and proud of their accomplishments. However, they disconnect between their outward appearance and their inner emotional state contributes to a feeling of overall life dissatisfaction. As a college student, if you suffer from the Imposter Phenomenon, you may avoid answering questions in class or having a professor review a paper due to fear of negative evaluations. A successful completion of a project may cause only temporary happiness because the success is not recognized as proof of one's capabilities. Likewise, an unsuccessful project may be perceived as validation of one's perceived lack of intelligence and/or skill. (Source: Counseling Center at University of Illinois)

Recommended books

Clance, P. R. (1985). The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers.
Sue, D. (2003). Overcoming Our Racism: The Journey to Liberation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Additional web resources