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Forming Relationships

We invite you to prepare for reading this section by reflecting on the following questions:

  • Are you working or preparing to work in a predominately white institution (PWI)? 

  • What is your history with PWIs? 

  • What does your history make visible to you?  What does it make hard to see? To hear?

  • What are your questions about working in predominantly white spaces towards the joyful and just world you want to live, learn, and work within?



Predominantly white instituiton


Black and Indigenous People of Color

White Privilege

the societal privilege that benefits white people over BIPOC people in some societies

The Context

While many student identities are marginalized, and while identity-based oppressions are intersectional, our focus here is on racialized and class-based marginalization.  The naming of the institution where we did our work as “predominantly white” reflects this focus. We center this writing on the importance of understanding BIPOC students’ experiences in navigating a PWI.  In using these terms, we are intentionally highlighting the pervasive whiteness of the history and current leadership of this institution, as well as of norms around white supremacy and white privilege that continue to set expectations for student life at many colleges and universities. 


While this guide gives voice and visibility to the struggles of BIPOC students, and of first generation college students, the discussion centered here on relationship building and support is fluid and can be applicable to other groups whose challenges are often invisible on campus, or even just to those needing help navigating college and unsure of how to garner the help and support they need. 


While higher education spotlights individual achievement, it undervalues and often ignores the relationships that enable individuals as well as groups to thrive.  This guide explores what it takes for individuals and institutions to sustain, protect, and celebrate relationships.  This means ensuring that colleges and universities are healthy, humane places within which students, including those whose identities and positionalities are often marginalized, may exist and thrive whole, not in pieces.


As long as people leading PWIs assume that “diversifying” does not include attending to the traumas this process brings about or intensifies, not all who think they are allies are allies.  In fact, from our perspective, “ally” does not work well as a term of self-description. Rather, it makes sense only (if then) as a term of recognition and witness, applied to someone when seen and felt as appropriate by someone who feels that person to be their ally. It’s also important to remember that not all who think they are making a positive impact are free from causing harm and trauma.  And any act may do both. 

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