From the Desk of the Council: Managing Minority Status Stress

One of the core missions of the Honors Diversity Council is to serve as a voice for marginalized communities on campus and foster a sense of belonging. This semester, they are launching weekly blog posts that will discuss the experience of students with marginalized identities/and or how the University community can be a more inclusive environment for everyone. This week, Bhavya Vats will be talking about her experience minority stress. You can read more about this term and Bhavya’s tips for combating it in the new “From the Desk of the Council” series.

I came across the term, “Minority Status Stress,” quite recently while preparing for a week-long service trip to Des Moines with the Hawkeye Service Break class. Minority stress encompasses feelings of chronic stress associated with being a racial, sexual, and/or gender minority in America. These stresses may develop due to real or perceived discrimination and microaggressions toward an identity group. “Wow, how is your English so good?” At their worst, such seemingly innocent comments can lead to someone losing their sense of belonging, developing an imposter syndrome, or feeling the need to prove their worth.

Throughout my eight years in Iowa so far, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by just the right number of kind people who have helped me navigate my journey as a minority student. While I can’t do justice in discussing the experiences of all minority groups, I would like to share some lessons I have gathered to deal with minority stress:

1) Don’t make assumptions. One of the four agreements shared by Don Miguel Ruiz (in his book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom [1]), this idea has helped me separate feelings from facts. People can certainly make comments to hurt others. However, that is a poor reflection of their character and lack of knowledge/compassion which shouldn’t lead to any negative thoughts on the receiver’s end. Making assumptions about others’ ill intentions only hurts us further. In such charged situations, it may be helpful to either remove yourself from the conversation altogether or ask questions to clarify the argument. More clarity in thought can only lead to better discussions and less divisive outcomes.

2) You are enough! I immigrated to America as a middle schooler and internalized this phrase: “The sky is the limit.” [2] As an honors student, I have said this phrase quite often, and– being a minority– I have also felt the need to prioritize academics over everything else. Because if I am subpar, my shortcomings may get generalized to include everyone who looks like me! I am grateful to be a teaching assistant for the College of Engineering and to conduct research on stem cells and metabolic diseases. However, even after engaging in such fulfilling opportunities, I feel like I can do more. This has motivated me to keep pursuing higher goals but has also made me feel dissatisfied with my progress. While adding new skills and improving as a learner are good things, these improvements should not be made at the expense of your mental wellbeing.

I am happy to have mentors who have supported my ambitions and have encouraged me to keep asking why. Why do I work hard or at all? To help people? Sure, but is that enough? I needed to own my dreams. Instead of proving my worth to others, I need to work on shaping who I am and what I value. By taking these ideas to heart, I hope minority students can fulfill their aspirations while not being influenced by external pressures to do so.


For those who would like more tips, here’s a quick resource to learn how to manage minority stress as a college student:

 [1] I would highly recommend reading this book! Great for self-reflection and personal innovation.  

[2] Fun fact: some people believe this phrase became popular in the early 1900s with the invention of airplanes but its true origin is still unclear.

About the author:

Bhavya Vats is a third-year student serving as a member of the external committee in the Honors Diversity Council. She is majoring in biomedical engineering with certificates in technological entrepreneurship and clinical and translational science. On campus, Bhavya works as a Teaching Assistant, Editor-in-Chief for Stem-o-Sphere, and is an ICRU fellow in the Harata lab.

Edited by: Alexis Carfrae, Honors Admin


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