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4 Tips on Surviving as a Woman of Color at Penn

Written by Claire Kafeero (Wharton '25)

Penn has been my dream school for years, so when I recieved my acceptance letter into Wharton, I was ecstatic. I finally felt like all my years of hard work had paid off! However, nothing could have prepared me for the feelings of loneliness upon realizing I’m often one of the only black and female students sitting in a classroom. Coming from a predominantly black and hispanic community, coming to Penn was a complete culture shock for me, to say the least. I was so used to being in classes with people that looked like me. Coming to Penn, I felt like my entire world flipped. I felt like an outsider and this feeling has taken a toll on me as I try to complete my first semester.

However, over the past few months, I've come to get a better understanding of how to navigate Penn as a woman of color. Here are 4 tips that I hope will help you throughout your college journey.

1. Fighting Feelings of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence despite your accomplishments and it is a phenomenon that is common among individuals in marginalized groups who find themselves going through transitions. In a place like Penn, where everyone is extremely talented and there isn’t always a lot of diversity, it is common for women of color to develop Imposter Syndrome.

My tips to overcome such feelings is to give yourself constant reminders that you belong. For me, I repeat mantras like ‘You worked hard for your spot’ and ‘You deserve to be here.’ These simple mantras put me at ease and help me fight off the feelings of Imposter Syndrome.

2. Express Your Feelings and Concerns to Someone that has been in your position

Being the only woman of color in most spaces is mentally draining. From feeling like my class contributions were not always heard, to constantly being spoken over, I felt unseen. While I often kept these feelings of distress and discomfort to myself this was definitely not the healthiest option. Finding people to open up to, like my roommate and other close friends have given me a safe outlet to share my feelings. In places like Penn, where white males dominate, women of color can often feel neglected and extremely discouraged. Discussing your feelings with someone you trust gives you a sense of peace. While this certainly doesn’t take away the uncomfort that comes with being a woman of color in predominantly white spaces, it reminds you that you are not alone in facing these adversities.

If you feel like you truly have no one to turn to, journaling is another great option. Getting your words out on a page is another way for you to express your feelings. The great thing with journaling is that your words don’t have to be perfect. You are the only one that will read it, so be honest with how you feel.

It is important to remember that all of our feelings and individual experiences are valid, and we should take the time to express these feelings in whatever way we see fit.

3. Finding Your People (Affinity Groups)

As women of color, it is also important to remember that we are not alone. Many others around us are going through similar experiences. The beauty about Penn is that there are a multitude of clubs and groups for everyone. I was able to find a strong sense of community in Wharton Women as I get to collaborate with strong-minded women who want to make a change in the world and who are also there to support each other as we navigate the world of Wharton and Penn as a whole. Other affinity groups on campus include Black Student League, Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Lambda Grads, etc. Each of these unique spaces give women of color the chance to connect with people who have gone through similar experiences.

4. Stand Up For Yourself

I have felt completely unseen countless times in the classroom. In group projects, the time and effort that I put in are often overlooked. Women of color constantly find themselves ignored. And it’s completely unfair.

One way to make yourself seen is to stand up for yourself. People will walk all over you if you do not use your voice. Being vocal about your concerns in group settings sets the tone for group interactions and lets everyone know that you will not stand for being ignored. I specifically found myself having to do so in my Legal Studies class when we were completing a group assignment. When I gave ideas on how to approach a question, my group would speak over me or completely ignore what I said. While it may have been unintentional, it did hurt. When this happened, I’d stop the group, and redirect them back to my suggestions to make sure they heard my piece. While it can be a bit scary at first, it is so necessary to do this if you want to be respected and heard.

About the Author:

Claire is a freshman at Penn from Boston, Massachusetts. She plans on studying finance in the Wharton School of Business. When she’s not doing work, Claire loves to read, bake, and watch the Bachelorette with friends. For questions, you can reach Claire at

Photo by from Pexels

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