Detroit Today: Why demanding Black students to share their trauma often reduces them to stereotypes

Michigan Ph.D. candidate Aya Waller-Bey explains trauma narrative and how it affects Black students.

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With students going back to school this fall, it also means the beginning of the college application season.

But essay prompts can be particularly stressful for Black students. That’s because they often feel like invitations, or maybe even demands, to frame Black students’ narratives in a particular way — one that emphasizes their pain.

Some have called this framing the “trauma narrative,” but what does that mean? Why is it harmful to force it on Black students?

University of Michigan Ph.D. candidate Aya Waller-Bey joins Detroit Today to explain trauma narrative and how it affects Black students.

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Aya Waller-Bey is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan, studying the trauma narrative in college essays. She says when applying for colleges, Black students should explore the aspects of their experiences they find important, not just the moments others expect them to share.

“Talk about your reality, talk about your experiences. However, do not feel forced and do not feel like you have to contort or flatten or even over-emphasize these difficult moments if you are not ready to talk about them,” says Waller-Bey.

Listen to Detroit Today with host Stephen Henderson weekdays from 9-10 a.m. ET on 101.9 WDET and streaming on-demand.

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