To answer this question, we have to start before minority and non-minority students get to campus.
Different individuals experience life differently. Students’ experiences are based on the communities in which they grow up, the families from which they hail, the activities in which they are involved, and the high schools they attended. Race and ethnicity also play a role in how individuals experience college, including how they experience Ivy League institutions.
You will find both minority and non-minority students that boast of their Ivy League experience; you will find both who disliked their experience. What is most important, particularly for minority students, is to know which supports and which type of environment are needed and desired to be successful.
At most Ivy League institutions, students of color will be the minority in their classrooms, in their residence halls, and walking around campus. There may be instances where a student will be the only person of their race or ethnicity in their classroom.
This doesn’t affect all students the same, but for some students, being the ‘only one’ can cause a feeling of isolation or a feeling that they have to represent their entire race. Feelings such as the aforementioned can cause minority students to be disengaged and disappointed with their undergraduate experience.
There have been some instances of racism exhibited towards students of color on Ivy League campuses. Racial microaggressions, institutionalized racism, and blatant racist interactions with students, staff, and faculty can create a hostile environment for students of color.
The culture of superior intellectual ability found on Ivy League campuses, occasionally mixed with microaggressions, can create an climate that questions not only students of color’s academic abilities, but also their right to be a part of the community. Non-minority students may also experience instances of these feelings, but they will not be felt in the same way.
Minority students who wish to attend Ivy League institutions should not be discouraged. Instead, prospective students should push for more information regarding how diversity is embraced on their campus of interest. What programs, organizations, and initiatives are in place to support and celebrate students of color? Are there diverse faculty and university leadership? Have there been past racial instances and how were they addressed by the university?
Also, try to talk to current students of color about their experiences not just academically, but socially on-campus and in their interactions with majority students. Overall, know what it is you require in a campus environment to be holistically successful and make sure, Ivy League or otherwise, you choose the campus that can meet your needs.
Felecia Commodore is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as a research assistant at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.