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5 Things to Say When Leaving Your African American Son at a PWI

Deborah Porter

None of us will soon forget the year 2020 and all that has happened. The pandemic, the cancellation of, literally, everything (graduations, proms, sports) — the world came to a standstill. Only to be followed by the killings of unarmed African American men and women. We know these stories all too well and because they are being filmed we see them play out right in front of us.

When you drop off your African American son at a PWI (predominantly white institution), there are a few things you need to discuss with him before the last hug and kiss as you head back home.

As parents, our goal is to provide our children with more. More opportunity, more exposure, more stuff, the things we didn’t have but wished that we had. In doing so, we often forget that some of what we struggled through helped to create the persons we are today.

And no matter how much we give them, there is no doubt that our children will have their own struggles. Things they have to figure out, reason through and navigate on their own. That will definitely be the case in college. No matter which one they’ve chosen or how far or close it is to home, our children will find themselves in situations that are unique to them, that only they can manage through.

All three of my children graduated from PWIs, one girl and two boys. Here are five things we communicated to them (especially our sons) before we left campus.

1. Keep your ID on you.

Don’t ever leave the dorm without your ID because chances are you will get stopped by security at least once. No, it’s not fair, but right now I want you to be safe and to be able to prove that you belong exactly where you are.

2. See the world around you and join in, but remember why you’re here.

There will be many opportunities and things to participate in. Fraternities, human rights causes, club sports, parties, social gatherings, this list goes on and on. However, you must know your “why” and be clear about it. If you're playing sports for the university, much of your time will be spent fulfilling that commitment in addition to the academic demands. Focus.

3. Find your people.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't have a wide range of friends and associates. However, I encourage you to find and introduce yourself to the staff at the African American Student Affairs Office. This office goes by different names on different campuses, but it shouldn't be hard to find. Get to know the folks there and be known by them.

The AA student office at the PWI my youngest son attended provided free textbook rental through their own library system, free tutoring, personal support and even an occasional home-cooked meal.

4. Visit each professor during office hours.

And do it frequently enough that they know you by name, if possible. Professors may not be able to take the time to get to know you during class.

5. Seek out an African American male mentor at the PWI.

A graduate student, a professor or perhaps an upperclassman. Many of our kids suffer from a syndrome I call “I know, Mom-itis." But, here’s the thing — they don’t know what they don’t know, and the days of hearing it from us and agreeing are long gone. Having an African American male mentor fits the bill here for obvious reasons.Author Deborah Porter and her son at college move-in day

Each of my three children graduated in four years and had a wonderful experience at their respective universities. They each did most of these five things and others that fit their individual personalities. My daughter tutored inner city school children, my oldest son worked in the University Office of Athletics for a D-1 school, and my youngest son was an activist who brought about lasting change at the PWI he attended.

With each holiday visit home, my husband and I could see them developing into the independent, confident adults that they are today, working in their respective fields of study, still learning and growing. They’re not perfect but they fit perfectly into our family, and we couldn’t be any prouder of them than we are right now. And I’m sure this is exactly how you’re feeling on move-in day.

So, parents, congrats to you and all that you’ve accomplished in this season. Get those final hugs and selfies and know that you have given your new freshman everything they need to succeed — not only in college but in life.

Deborah Porter is the ultimate list maker, system creator and investigator of anything that will make things run smoother at home and in life. Having systems in place allowed her to achieve her personal goals in every phase of motherhood, while being married for 30 years to her college sweetheart and raising three children. Deborah is the Founder of Moms Mentoring Circle, a regular contributor on WTVR’s Virginia This Morning, and occasional guest on WJLA’s The Mother Side. Visit her website for a free gift,, or reach out to her at [email protected]
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V Smith
V Smith
6 months ago

This is needed as my child leaves to a pwi university. Wonderful discussion points and information needed to help them as they navigate and connect.

Tammy Ames
Tammy Ames
6 months ago


Tina K
Tina K
6 months ago

Thanks so much for this advice. Leaving soon to drop my son off at a PWI. The info. is truly needed now more than ever!

Beth Rose
Beth Rose
6 months ago

These were great suggestions!

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