“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ― Howard Thurman
Attending an HBCU was one of the greatest decisions I have made thus far. Placing myself into a space that thrives on historically and culturally relevant pedagogy allowed me to flourish as a young Black male scholar. The possibilities were endless and the support was limitless. The only issue that came about is when I decided to limit myself.
More popularly known as XULA, Xavier University of Louisiana shares a history as rich and as profound as the Crescent City in which it sits. The alma mater sweetly sings of lying near the delta of the Mississippi River, forcing every one who enters the campus to be drowned by the smell of gumbo rising from grandmother’s kitchen. Unbeknownst to 18-year-old me, Xavier is a staple in neighborhoods across America, not only Louisiana. For this reason, upon my arrival to campus on August 10, 2010, there were hundreds of students from across the nation arriving simultaneously. Everyone had heard that Xavier was five years post-Hurricane Katrina and five years stronger than ever. The university had now carried with it a strength that can push waters back from which they came.
However, I had done myself a disservice. Four years later, after I crossed the stage and was granted a Bachelor of Science in biology (pre-medicine), and worked relentlessly to gain honors in history and theology, I found myself at a crossroads. I went immediately into medical school after leaving New Orleans, but came to find that it was not the dream I thought I had. Did I choose the wrong type of institution? Should I have attended a predominantly White institution (PWI)? Why did Xavier tract me into medicine? Who can I blame?
I initially began to write an open letter about how HBCUs force you into a field that needs more minority representation, but I was given a mirror when I sent it to my mentor. He opened my eyes to the fact that, maybe, just maybe, it was not Xavier’s fault. This time, I can’t blame it on the institution. They were only there to support and aid in whatever decision I make. But these were the questions I asked myself when I packed my things and decided to withdraw from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry after only one year.
As a graduate of an HBCU, I do not regret my decision a single bit and I am sure that most HBCU graduates feel the same way. What I do regret is the sole responsibility that I had in deciding on what career would make me the happiest. With XULA being No. 1 at placing African-Americans into the medical field, I figured it would be a perfect fit for me. And it was. I was accepted to medical school during the fall of my junior year (via the Early Assurance Program), and life was “perfect.” It was lined up for me to become the best doctor I could become. But as I look back, I realized that, essentially, I had tracked myself into a career, especially medicine, far too soon.
In January 2015, I began my second semester of medical school, quickly moving past the first few phases of the W Curve, leaving me at mental isolation. By March, I was lying in bed for days at a time, missing classes regularly and skipping meals. In the back of my mind, I knew I was lying to myself. I knew that medicine was not the path for me, but I could not let my family, friends and colleagues down. I was stuck between staying to make everyone else happy or leaving and flourishing in my true passion. I was starting to believe quickly that depression was my only way out and it was at that moment I realized I had to make a monumental decision.
As a result, I packed up my things and decided to quit pursuing something that was not a passion for me and go out and find what it was that made me “come alive.” I could no longer live within this world of stress and anxiety that was slowly killing me when I did not want to be there.
I tell this story not to deter anyone from attending medical school or to lament in my decisions. I tell this for the student who may not be comfortable in their career choice, the student who lives for the approval of others, and the student who does not know that change is possible. Take time to think for yourself and really assess what it is that makes you “come alive.” Those that truly love and support you will not chastise you for making such a decision. They will only support and encourage you along your way to becoming great.
Because of the great faculty and staff of Xavier, I am now a first-semester Ph.D. student at Louisiana State University in the Educational Leadership, Research, and Counseling (ELRC) program with a specialization in higher education administration. I could not be any happier than I am now that I am following my true passion. So when asked what is a diverse issue in higher education, I would answer it is that we don’t share our stories enough. Furthermore, from those stories, we do not take the lessons and strides of those individuals and use them as fuel for motivation in our lives.
So to the “career changers,” I applaud you. To the “not so happy where I am” people, I encourage you. Just remember that if the same people who helped you to get where you are now are as loving and caring as you think, then they will be more than willing to help you to get where you want to go later. The road is not easy by any means, but it’s definitely worth the journey.