ATLANTA - When Ashanti Hampton of Stone Mountain graduated a year early from her racially-diverse DeKalb County high school -- with a 4.2 average -- Georgia Tech seemed like a perfect fit. Instead, she felt isolated, unable to connect.
"It's very hard. Engineering is hard in itself. But being alone in engineering, and struggling alone, and struggling silently, is even harder," says Hampton. "To be honest, I dealt with a lot of depression here. "
"You definitely have to prove you belong here, a lot," adds Seyi Gvadeagesin a third-year computer engineering student, born in Nigeria, and raised in North Carolina, says he, too, has struggled.
"I've been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders," says Gvadeagesin.
A recent Vanderbilt study found a "mental health crisis" in Black students at elite, predominantly white colleges and universities.
"It's society, you, your parents, the Institute. It's everything, mixed together, jumbled up into one big ball," says Gvadeagesin.
At a school where 6% of the population is African-American, Seyi says he's been mistaken for a visitor, several times.
"I have a Georgia Tech backpack. And they're like, "Oh, do you got to Georgia State? Do you go to Morehouse?' 'No, I got to Tech." Oh, did you transfer?"
Dr. Kisha Holden, a psychologist at Morehouse School of Medicine, encourages students to practice what she calls "selfcare."
"It's a reality that we all face. Any time you're trying to acheive a certain level of excellence," Dr. Holden adds " I would suggest that having a social support network, a network of individuals, your family, is critical in being able to achieve success."
Archie Ervin, Vice President for Institute Diversity at Georgia Tech, says the school, which graduates more African-American engineers than almost any other school in the country, is working hard to make minority students feel more included in the Tech experience.
"Now, it doesn't say you make it less rigorous. It says that you push students to do the best they can, which is part of the reason why they're here," says Ervin.
Ervin is part of a task force studying the African American student experience. Put together last fall after Black students complained they were being racially-harassed on campus around fraternity row.
"If there are issues that are raised that are about experiences in classrooms, out of classrooms, that are part of the fabric, or the DNA of Georgia Tech, then we look to ways that we can tweak that. To make sure that it is not taxing on students, simply because of who they are," says Ervin.
Hampton already has a job with Amazon lined up after graduation. Gvadeagesin is applying for a Wall Street internship. Both hope their school will do more to embrace all of its students.