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The Black Woman Wellness Retreat & The Necessity for Self Care

During the winter break of my first year (Winter 2021), I stayed on campus. Break gave me the time I needed to listen to my own needs and goals instead of getting caught up in the busy-ness of the semester. Most importantly, it gave me the space to be more intentional about self-care. I slept in more often, hung out with other on-campus friends regularly, started a new TV series and got back into crocheting.   

In addition to participating in a few Wintersession workshops–one on knitting, one on embroidery and one session called "Founding Your Deep Tech Startup"–I also was fortunate enough to attend the first Black Women Wellness Retreat hosted by the Our Health Matters (OHM) Club. The OHM is a club focused on the health and wellbeing of Black women on campus. In a world that expects Black women to be endlessly “strong,” this all expenses paid retreat gave me the room to be honest about how I was honestly doing and what I needed:

After tasty breakfast pastries provided by The Gingered Peach, a local Black woman-owned business, we took a chartered bus to Skytop Lodge, located in the Poconos Mountains. The Lodge itself was stunning, it had rich, velvety carpets, tall windows with lots of natural sunlight and really unique furniture. The room I stayed in had ample space, as well as its own walk-in closet, full bathroom and outdoor patio. During the retreat, our time was spent doing everything from playing ping pong to making vision boards, to talking about our experiences with dating on campus.


Magazine cutouts for vision board collage

I do not share any of this to brag. As a lower-income student, I’d never stepped foot near a ski lodge before, yet this retreat afforded me that experience as a means to promote my self care. I share this experience with you, because it is important that Black women are seen engaging in self-care, indulging in high-quality experiences and supporting each other.  

At the end of the day, I am reminded of this quote from Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” As a Black person, I must remind myself of this every day. As a woman of color, I must remind myself of this every day. As all of the the things I am–lower-income, first-generation and a Black Muslim woman trying to navigate an elite institution–it is imperative that I strive closer and closer to a future where my self care is no longer negotiable in my schedule but the norm. 

What about you? How has your self-care journey been going? I’d love to know!

The Art of Trying New Things

One of the first things I promised myself before going to college was that I was going to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. What better time than now to explore all the things I had never had the opportunity to in high school? 

Thus, first-year fall, despite my many reservations about doing so, I tried out for the Princeton Debate Panel. While it was one of the most terrifying things I had ever done, I am grateful to have found some of my closest friends and a tight-knit community that single handedly helped me through my first semester at Princeton. 

I kept (and am keeping) my promise to myself as I entered the second half of my sophomore year. I ended up auditioning for an a cappella group, a decision I made a day before auditions were to take place. My reservations for doing so stemmed from the fact that as much as I enjoyed singing in my free time, I never thought I was good enough to sing in a more structured setting. 

I was saved from making one of the worst mistakes of my Princeton career when one of my friends, after hearing my plight on whether or not I should audition, told me just what I needed to hear. “What’s the worst that could happen? You’re nervous for 15 minutes, maybe embarrass yourself in front of a few people. But the best case scenario? You get ten new friends, and get to do something you enjoy.” The answer then became pretty clear in my head. 

I went, sang in front of a group of people I didn’t know, and left shaking from nerves, but relieved I had gone through with it. That night, I found out that I had been asked back for callbacks, and went to callbacks the day after, where I (still extremely nervous) mingled with members and got to experience what it would be like to sing as part of a group. I left callbacks daydreaming about what it would be like to perform with these amazing collection of singers, and once again, thoroughly glad I had gone. 

Now, I’m a proud member of the Princeton Tigressions, one of the many a cappella groups Princeton has to offer. Each group is unique in their sound, their members and their personalities. The Tigressions are known for a bold sound, and our repertoire ranges from classics such as Moon River and more contemporary arrangements such as When We Were Young. We also go on an international tour during fall break, though a cappella groups on campus mainly sing in one of the many arches on campus. Also unexpectedly, my first performance happened to be at McCarter Theatre in front of a crowd of more than six hundred people. As terrifying as that was, it was one of the most fun (and memorable) moments at Princeton so far. 

So go for it. Try something new. 

Hola, me llamo Gil...

I have always been fascinated by languages. I grew up bilingual, speaking Haitian Creole and French. Then, at the age of twelve, I realized that it would be cool to actually understand the songs of Akon which I was a big fan of: that's how I decided to start learning English. Later, in high school (coincidentally around the time Akon had hit pause on his musical career), I decided to move on to new horizons and started studying Spanish, followed by German. I think languages are cool, especially at Princeton.

At Princeton, every A.B. student has to pass the language requirement (i.e. demonstrating proficiency in a language other than English) before they graduate. There are many ways to fulfill this requirement. I, for example, took a French Placement Test the summer before I came to Princeton, which allowed me to place out of the language requirement. That meant I did not have to take any language classes at Princeton. But I still did! Why? Because languages are cool! Rather than starting with a completely new language at Princeton (which I might still do later on), I decided to keep learning Spanish for a while. I took the Placement Test for Spanish a couple of days after the French one and got placed into Spanish 108 (for Advanced Learners). 

I took the class last semester and it was amazing! My instructor was extremely kind, supportive and knowledgeable. My experience in that class was nothing like what I had seen in language classes before. Not only did the course focus on the development of the students' oral and written expression, but it also did so by engaging with interesting and thought-provoking material that explored the cultures, histories and politics of Spanish-speaking communities in the United States as well as the larger Hispanic world. The regular writing and speaking exercises encouraged me to frequently engage with the language beyond a superficial level in order to become comfortable expressing complex ideas in Spanish. All this in an encouraging and low-stress environment. I ended up doing very well in the class thanks to the incredible support I received from my instructor and my peers.

This experience reassured me in my decision to pursue a Certificate in Spanish, so much so that I am taking another Spanish class this semester: Spanish 209. In this course, we learn to analyze films in Spanish, which is a great way to improve my writing and speaking skills. It's also a great excuse to watch TV on the weekend without feeling guilty! I am only a few weeks in and I already love it! In addition to the language courses, Princeton offers other opportunities to get better in languages such as speaker events, internships abroad, summer language courses abroad, etc…

I truly feel that Princeton is one of the best places to brush up your skills in many languages or acquire new ones. Plus, you will want to take a class in East Pyne (the building that hosts most of the language departments): it is absolutely stunning! If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself!

East Pyne Hall

P.S.: If you have questions about any of the things mentioned above, do not hesitate to send me an email!

Challenges at Princeton

For a moment, I want to pivot away from all the great things I’ve experienced at Princeton (read about all of that here!) and share a little about some of my struggles.

My first year, academically, was a challenge. There were a lot of factors leading into this, whether it was dumb luck, adjusting to college life, or the transition from a small Midwestern public school to Princeton’s level of academic rigor. These challenges didn’t magically resolve themselves overnight. I’d feel like I solved them, only for them to resurface a few days or weeks or months later, always in different situations, but often with similar themes or trends. 

These recurrences, obviously, didn’t make me feel good. Every time I got a subpar grade, wrestled with my course load, or forced myself to go to office hours when it was cold and wintry outside, I didn’t do so with a good feeling. There’s always that question of how to juggle classes and other commitments with your other needs, whether it be physical, social or mental. 

Some lessons that I learned. Firstly, do seek out help. I tried too often, as the stubbornly independent person I am, to tough it out alone and figure things out. But Princeton itself does offer resources such as the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, or class-specific office hours and TAs. In working on my senior thesis, I’ve recently discovered the presence of a maps specialist at the Lewis Science Library, who might be able to help me superimpose maps of New York City overtime to figure out patterns of developing land. To paraphrase Dumbledore, there’s always help at Princeton for those who ask.

Beyond these academic aids, however, sometimes you just have to zoom out and take a larger view. 

Princeton challenges everyone, constantly, and for the most part, that means we are constantly growing - as students, as friends, as people. It can be really easy to be tough on yourself (as a Princeton student, but also as a person reading this blog applying to Princeton). It can be easy to think of one setback as a door permanently closed or to shoulder an immense burden and think it still isn’t heavy enough. But I think one of the biggest lessons I’m still learning at Princeton is to be true and gentle to myself - to believe in that process and allow things to work themselves out. 

The challenges, growing pains and learning opportunities at Princeton are limitless. It’s important to afford yourself that breath of fresh air between each one. 

Poets Should Come Ready to Move/Yell/Play/Discover

"...Writing and performing our way towards a deeper understanding of ourselves as spoken word poets, we will collaboratively work our way towards a final public performance and, hopefully, the tools to better move the crowds we face, which are the tools to change the world one poem at a time."

When I saw the description for this course, Spoken Word Poetics taught by award-winning poet Danez Smith, I just had to apply!

In December 2021, the last month of fall semester, I participated in course selection, a process where students of each grade level take turns signing up for the classes they want to take the following semester. There are lots of classes to choose from, everything from an Introduction to Entrepreneurship to Songwriting; some classes require an application or permission to register, but many (if not most) classes don’t. 

Course selection naturally tends to be more of an emotionally turbulent time for everyone, as people scramble to explore all of Princeton’s courses, narrow down their course lists, and resolve any scheduling conflicts. I try to make the process as fun as possible, though, by exploring my academic curiosities and looking for classes that sounded exciting and engaging. 

One of the topics I wanted to explore academically was creative writing. Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing provides a wide range of classes taught by well-respected writers. Many of these classes require applications. While the Program currently seeks to become more inclusive and supportive of writers of all skill levels, I’d encourage you not to begin hyperventilating because of the word “application,” because the application for most of the intro classes does not ask for any writing samples. 

For some background on my interest in creative writing, I’ve been writing poetry since middle school. I began writing, hilariously enough, because my best friend started playing club volleyball and I could no longer hang out with her as much afterschool. Fun fact: I wrote one of my college essays about the first open mic I performed at! How meta, writing about writing!

That being said, I believe any student can submit a compelling application, especially with the help of resources like the Writing Center. If I didn’t at least try to apply, I wouldn’t be here today telling you about how excited I am to take this course! 

At the end of the day, if you’re interested in creative writing classes at Princeton, don’t let applications scare you! I applied to Spoken Word Poetics because, ironically, I am terrified of performing my poetry in front of other people and actually have them *listen* and *hear* me. 

Regardless, I hope that this class can provide me with the space to begin facing some of that fear, and become more confident in my words. Are there any academic curiosities you’ve always wanted to explore, or fears you’re ready to face? I’d love to know!

This Post Is Not Sponsored By The Writing Center

I still don't know exactly what my concentration will be. When I applied to Princeton, I thought I was going to concentrate in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). However, in the middle of my first semester, I started to have doubts. I began to seriously wonder if SPIA was the right path for me. A semester later and I am more unsure about my concentration than I have ever been. What contributes to my uncertainty is the fact that Princeton offers so many interesting opportunities that I am torn between so many departments, research and funding options. While I am still unsure about what my concentration will be, one thing is certain, I will write. A LOT!

I remember reading somewhere that Princeton is one of the universities that places emphasis on writing. This is one of the reasons why all students are required to produce a senior thesis before they graduate. This is also why all undergraduates are required to take a Writing Seminar, either in the fall or spring semester of their first year. Writing seminars are intended to introduce first-year students to academic writing. There are several seminars that students can rank before they are officially assigned to one. I attended mine, WRI 167/168: Justice Beyond Borders, in the fall. I remember one day, as we were discussing Kant's main claims in "Towards Perpetual Peace", a staff member walked into the room and introduced us to a wonderful resource: The Writing Center.

Lounge of the Writing Center

Essentially, the Writing Center offers free 50-minute and sometimes 80-minute one-on-one appoinments to students in which consultants help them work on writing assignments, ranging from 3-page essays to 20-page research papers. Consultants are undergraduate students who are trained to provide guidance on writing assignments. Personally, I see the Writing Center as an accountability checker. I schedule my appointments days (even weeks) before the deadline for my essays. My thinking is this: if I have a writing consultation scheduled, then I need to have something written. There are even times when I don't have an essay to receive feedback on. Sometimes I only have rough outlines or just broad ideas. However, scheduling a consultation forces me to set time aside to at least think about my writing assignment and to get someone else’s perspective on my initial ideas.

The consultants that I work with always listen to me and ask questions that help refine my ideas and push them further. When there is really nothing to think about, they propose exercises that encourage reflection on specific parts of my essay. Wherever you are in the writing process, they've got you! That's the beauty of the Writing Center. In fact, the consultations I found most useful were the ones where I didn't even have a draft. It is important to note that while no two consultants are the same, at the end of every appointment, I always feel ready to embark on my next step in the writing process.

I see the Writing Center as a group of students who not only listen to me talk about my ideas, but also help to formulate them into words, and ultimately in a "coherent, sensitively argued and well-written essay" (by the way, these are the comments that one of my teachers made on an essay workshopped by the Writing Center. It really works guys!)

This is just my experince with The Writing Center and while others may have a different take, I can say that it has been a helpful tool for me and it may be helpful to you as well. And who knows, maybe I will be a Writing Consultant by the time you come to Princeton and I will consult your essay!

Far From Home

The last time I was in Haiti was in August 2019, before I moved to Germany to attend boarding school. Since then, either the health situation in the world or the socio-political situation in Haiti has prevented me from visiting my native land. This winter break was no exception. Following the surge of the Omicron variant around the world, which came in addition to the worrying political instability plaguing my country, I had to make the difficult decision to indefinitely postpone my trip to Haiti. After moping for a few days and complaining to my family, I had to take on the arduous but necessary mission of figuring out how I was going to spend my winter vacation in the United States.

One thing was sure, I was going to find someone, somewhere, to host me for the duration of the vacation. For one, Haitians are everywhere! For two, I know people… I think? Anyway, I was going to be fine! Asking family and friends to host me remained the last option on my list. After all, no one wants to be a visitor who abuses their host's hospitality. Four weeks is a lot of hellos, good nights, have you eaten already, when are you going back to Princeton again? Four weeks is a long time under the care of barely known strangers or distant relatives. For the most part, no one will tell you it's time to leave, but there is always an underlying discomfort that intensifies over time. Even when the host's hospitality doesn't seem to waver, after some time, one always ends up feeling uncomfortable. Out of place. Like a burden.

Fortunately, I did not have to burn my brain cells overthinking or interpreting the over-enthusiastic hellos or the not-genuine-enough smiles from any host. Sometime after Thanksgiving, Professor Hakim of the SIFP Office (Scholars Institute Fellows Program) shared an email from Dean Dolan regarding a request for continuous accommodation over the winter break. Essentially, students who could not return home during the holidays had the option of applying for continuous housing in order to be allowed on campus over the break. That was a breakthrough in my mission!

A few days after submitting a request in which I explained my situation, I received a confirmation from Princeton: I had qualified for continuous housing. Yay! After the immediate relief wore off, I felt bittersweet. I was grateful that I had a place to stay where I would be looked after. The testing program would continue throughout the break and food would be provided to me. Yet, despite having everything I needed to make it through, I was also very aware of the needs of the heart. The end of the year is a time most people spend with family and friends; I was staying on my college campus. I did not know how I would feel on Christmas Eve. Alone in my room. Or on New Year's Eve. Part of me was incredibly anxious.

The truth is, I really enjoyed my time on campus over the break. Don't get me wrong, there were some difficult times when I thought about where I could have been and what I could have been doing. However, I was constantly reminded that I had what I needed. I used the time away from distractions to reflect on my semester and my year in general. I realized that caught in the frenetic rhythm of my first semester, I did not spend enough time thinking about how I was doing, my goals or about the ways in which I was reconnecting with friends and family from back home. This downtime was incredibly helpful and rejuvenating. 

Procter Hall: Graduate College Hall at Princeton University

I also explored the campus and the surrounding areas on my bike. I spent time with the many other international students (and a few domestic students) who were also staying on campus. We had a lot to think about, a lot to share and a lot to laugh about. On January 7th, we had our first snow! The campus was magnificent, shining beneath this thick immaculate white sheet which, when it fell upon the old buildings and the remaining greenery created a magnificent contrast. I fell asleep that day with the windows open, lulled by the sight of the flakes that landed majestically on the grass in the Forbes backyard, on the other side of my room. The next day, the intensified sunlight reflected on the snow woke me up. I got ready right away for a full tour of campus, as I did on my first day at Princeton back in July 2021. Indeed, it was as if I was discovering the campus for the first time. 

After the first snowfall, the campus slowly came back to life. Student-athletes, staff and faculty eased back to work. I started feeling the excitement about the Wintersessions I had signed up for and the winter internship I had secured through Princeton. I will probably write a blog post about them: Designing a Photo Exhibit (documenting the experience of black students attending the first-ever residential summer program at Princeton in 1964) and a discussion on forced migration. I am also very excited for the Spring semester!

Student taking a selfie in the snow

P.S.: The Spiderman reference in the title was involuntary!

And There Was One - Some Senior Reflections

I’d just gotten home for the holidays this year when the Instagram posts started flooding in from my fellow Class of 22er’s - “Semester 7/8 done! One to go!” etc etc. Which of course wasn’t the first time this had crossed my mind. I’ve had a few late nights this semester thinking back to how it all began, reliving memories of the past three years, and wondering how on earth it could have all happened so quickly. I’m not kidding anyone, least of all myself. I knew from day one that these four years would move by fast.

People like to say at Princeton that the days are long, but the weeks are short. Every day, between the random encounters, the meetups for meals and studying, the trekking around campus from McCosh Hall to Firestone Library to Dillon Gym to Frist for Late Meal; between the plans you make for clubs and classes, and the hours after dinner you didn’t intend to spend playing pool or hanging out in the dining hall - every day you go to bed and think, how could I possibly have done all that in just one day?

Every day happens like that, and then you wake up and - wait a moment - that dinner in Whitman was a week ago? That dance performance was two? It’s been a month since that fall break trip and your fifteen page paper is due in like a week?

Wait a moment - it’s been three years already?

I tried to steel myself very early my first year for these thoughts. I knew the time would go by fast. But knowing only does so much. And I think what has helped me more than anything is trying as hard as I can to stay rooted in the present. To enjoy everything I have today, and to allow that to be all that matters. And when I sit down to think about all the experiences I’ve had, big and small, over the past week, or month, or year, I feel full, if that makes sense. 

I’m heading into my last semester. A couple weeks ago I woke up early one morning to do my last round of course selections for the upcoming semester. And it’s hard not to start thinking of things as the “last.” As a Residential College Adviser, I look at my first-year advisees and can’t help feeling a touch of melancholy at just how much time they have left. 

If any of you are looking at Princeton - heck, if any early action admits are reading this blog - I’m wishing you all the best. These years in college aren’t a cake walk, and sometimes things won’t seem the greatest. But look for and cherish the good moments. They go by fast.

Being Muslim at Princeton: A First-Time Experience

Truthfully, when I came to Princeton, I was not expecting to meet people who looked like me. I expected to be the outsider, other, visually and actually different from the rest. At my high school, that was all I knew. I was the only hijab-wearing Muslim out of over 800 students, and often the only Black person or girl in my advanced math and science courses. 

At my high school, I took the initiative to co-found the Muslim Students Association, or MSA for short. Our first couple years were a struggle to stabilize the group. The MSA never had more than four or five students during any given year. My experience of founding my school’s MSA opened my eyes to the reality of being Muslim at a predominately white institution: that experience is often isolating. But it also taught me the strength provided by community. 

Coming to Princeton, though, was a different story. Yes, I met people from all over the world, from Germany to Canada, and from Kenya to China, but I also met people just like me. I met people from California, my home state, and people from the Yoruba tribe, my tribe. Most meaningfully, I met people from my faith, Islam. A. WHOLE. GROUP. OF. THEM.

Let me set the scene for you: around noon, I walked into the gorgeous Murray-Dodge Hall and was greeted by Muslim peers. There was not just one type of “Muslim.” There were hijab-wearing Muslims and non-hijab-wearing ones, there were Muslims from a wide variety of American states and various countries across the world. THERE WERE PEOPLE MY AGE! STUDENTS! Students that I could talk to about the Quran, or about being a neuroscience concentrator, about hadith or about Hoagie Haven.

This was huge for me, considering I had an inconsistent Muslim community back home that mainly consisted of older women and their young children. Performing Jummah salat, an Islamic congregational prayer held every Friday, had become an action I did on autopilot, without really connecting with those around me. Going to Jummah for the first time at Princeton, though, thoroughly altered my notion of what Muslim representation can look like on an academic campus: being Muslim at a predominately white institution did not have to feel isolating, in fact, it could feel quite enriching and enjoyable.

Though Princeton's MSA has given me a community of people who I can relate to on a religious level, I would be remiss if I did not address the concept of homogeneity. While I do not think that living and staying solely in a community that looks entirely like you is a rewarding way to go through life, I think that there is much that can be gained from finding a small group of people with shared identities inside of a larger community that is diverse. These sort of small groups provide room for relatability without the echo chambers common in complete homogeneity. They provide a respite from day-to-day experiences without becoming a place that criticizes you for differences. 

Princeton’s MSA has shown me that same strength I first discovered, multiplied. Though it is still growing and expanding, the Princeton MSA has further exemplified how tightly a community can come together, especially after sorrowful events like the passing of Imam Sohaib.  I am looking forward to continuing my experience of Religious Life at Princeton, and I encourage you to explore the various religious groups on campus.

First-Year Takes on Princeton, Loses 1-0

When I initially began to reflect on my first semester here at Princeton, I could only see it as a zero-sum game, wherein Princeton bested me time and time again, despite my best efforts to maintain good grades, make friends and get enough sleep. But the inherent nature of reflection is not zero-sum, in fact, it is only through reflection that I’ve arrived at the person I am today, grasping at and combining all of the lessons I’ve learned throughout the years. Now that finals season has begun to wind down and the temperature has dropped suspiciously low, I am here to share with you three lessons I’ve learned from my first semester at Princeton!

Resilience Over Perfection

This has been a big one for me. As what you would call a “high achiever” (read: perfectionist) in high school, I expected that if I just sat down and studied, I’d get an ‘A’ in all or most of my classes. I quickly realized that that is not how academics works here at Princeton! Here, someone can study for hours and hours and still feel unsure walking into an exam. I do not say this to scare you, oh young one, but to prepare you. After taking my first semester of classes—an intro neuroscience class, an intro computer science class, a painting class and my first-year writing seminar—I have learned to value my own resilience over any unachievable notion of perfection. It is only from trying different study techniques and taking advantage of different class resources such as office hours that I’ve begun to figure out what I need to thrive academically. If I don’t get the grade I want, that just means I need to try something new next time!

The Spontaneous Yes is Rarely a Bad Choice

I know I’m going out on a limb here, telling you that your fingers do not have to be perpetually glued to a pencil or computer, but alas it is true! There are so many INCREDIBLE experiences I’ve had here at Princeton, all because I was willing to say “yes”! From learning how to ice skate at UPenn’s ice rink to performing in a Halloween parade, there are tons of opportunities (most of them free) for students to try new things, meet new people and have fun. 

Rest is Powerful

Read that one more time. Though it is easy to fall into a habit of working all the time and always being “busy,” I am slowly leaning into the power of saying no and taking some time for myself. Currently, my favorite self-care activities are napping, journaling and crocheting. I know I just told you to say “yes!” to more things, so this next lesson seems counterintuitive, but it’s actually not. My intentional “no’s” gave me the space to recharge and engage in self-care, so that when I did say “yes!” I was able to fully engage with whatever new experience I was having.  Saying yes to everything is not sustainable, and saying no to everything is a waste of all the cool opportunities Princeton has to offer; developing a good balance of yes’s and no’s is what has allowed me to take advantage of cool opportunities while staying on top of academics and relationship building. It is the key to avoiding burnout.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reflections on my first semester at Princeton. What has this past semester been like for you?