My parents started pushing me academically at a very young age. I was reading chapter books in kindergarten with a few of my peers while everyone else did arts and crafts. By 3rd grade I had started the Talented and Gifted Program. Once a week we completed rigorous coursework much above our grade level. From 3rd grade to 6th, a dozen of my peers and I learned Chinese, did basic algebra, and read long chapter books that couldn’t include “Junie B. Jones” or “Magic Treehouse”. There was one other person of color in that program and she had been adopted. I owe a lot of my success to TAG but I also attribute my desire for perfection to that period of my life. Don’t get me wrong, you should always strive for greatness but trying to prove yourself because of the color of your skin can become mentally exhausting.
This continued on for the rest of my academic career and even sometimes now I have to remind myself that I deserve to be here and I need to be kinder to myself.
In an advanced math class during 8th grade, I chose to sit with people that I had grown up with and considered “friends”. I noticed them whispering & giggling when one boy said out loud, in front of the class that the “tribe had spoken” and I “couldn’t sit with them”... To this day, I have no idea if this had anything to do with the color of my skin but being one of maybe 3 people of color in the entire class, I began to feel like an outcast.
From that point on I attempted to make more friends of color. Unfortunately there were not many in my classes so I only saw them at lunch & in extracurricular activities. That’s when I realized; I didn’t really have a place. I had plenty of friends but they regularly made comments about my race. My white friends claimed to be “blacker” than me and my black friends made jokes about me being an Oreo, white on the inside... You get it. Other white friends told me that their parents and grandparents didn’t typically like black people BUT I was an exception because I was a good girl and had decent parents. I didn’t experience blatant racism until after high school but the microaggressions were enough to drive anyone crazy.
The icing on the cake was this: Going to college was never a question for me. My dad graduated from the University of Dayton as a first generation college student and made sure we knew that our job in high school was to get into college with as little debt as possible, just like he had. In 2014, I was honored & blessed to have received the Morrill Scholarship of Excellence through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to attend The Ohio State University. This was a huge accomplishment for me. That was quickly shot down when one of my closet friends at the time said, “oh, I wouldn’t qualify for that because ya know, I’m white & my family makes too much money”.
At that very moment, I understood that my small, Appalachian town had no idea what diversity was and to them, I was still just a black girl. Not the successful student that took all AP & honors courses throughout high school. Not the president of National Honor Society, the VP of Student Council, and the secretary of Key Club and Spanish National Honor Society. And most definitely not the girl that was in the top 10% of her class, graduated with a 4.3 GPA, and got into every college that she applied to. Nope! I was just a black girl.
I started to feel like I only got in to college because I was successful “for a black girl” and got scholarships because I was a “success story”. A 2nd generation college student from Appalachia AND she’s black?
The sad thing about this is that there are a lot of black and brown students out there that have a similar experience. The difference is, I have an extremely supportive family that never gave up on me, even when I was ready to give up on myself. My mom taught me to have thick skin & loved me unconditionally so that I always knew that I mattered. My dad gave me his determination and pushed me along the way, so much so that I am now getting my Master’s at Ohio State.
I still have days that I’m not sure if I deserve my success thus far. I discredit myself more than I’d like to admit. I still have days where I feel like giving up, exhausted from graduate school and still trying to stay on top as one of few people of color in my program but then I run into the many successful black leaders on campus such as Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, Dr. D’Andra Mull, Dr. James Moore III, Dr. Gisell Jeter-Bennett, Mrs. Khadijah Jones, Mrs. Donya Gilmore, and Mrs. Courtney Johnson that have paved the way for myself and others. I also run into students that remind me that I helped them with their college application during their senior year or pushed them to consider college through my time with the Diversity Ambassador Program in Undergraduate Admissions.
So I’ll leave you with this, YOU MATTER! No matter what obstacles you face, no matter how many times they try to deter you from your dreams, you matter and you deserve every opportunity that comes your way.
Lauren was born and raised in Chillicothe, Ohio, just an hour south of Ohio State’s campus. She is a Master’s level social work student in the advanced standing alternative program at The Ohio State University and is on track to graduate in May 2019. In May 2018, she graduated from OSU with her Bachelor’s in Social Work. Lauren is passionate about her community and empowering women of color. While she was involved in a number of organizations during undergrad, she is currently focusing on her position as vice president of Mwanafuzni, the Ohio State Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers. After completing an internship at Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana in 2018, Lauren decided to pursue medical social work and is currently placed at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for a 9-month internship. She intends to continue in medical social work after graduation. Lauren became a licensed social worker in December of 2018.
Lauren Educational History:
2012 - HS Graduate, Chillicothe City Schools
2016 - BS in social work, The Ohio State University
In progress - Master’s of Social Work, The Ohio State University
Connect with Lauren:
Lauren Hitchens, LSW (LinkedIn)