Eric West Jr.

Believe in yourself

Eric West Jr. has definitely stepped out of his comfort zone during his time at IU.

The oldest of three, West spent his childhood between Indianapolis and Las Vegas. Raised by a single mother, West was forced to grow up at an early age, serving as a both a big brother and father figure to his two younger siblings.

Although his mother attended a couple of years of college, she never completed her college degree. But she always encouraged her son to, telling him, ‘I can see it in you, you are going to be successful.’”

“I started preparing for college at a very early age,” West said. “Because in my family a lot of people don’t go to college, especially males in our family. I want to be the outreach of my family and do something with my life in a positive way.”

Eric West Jr.
The "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign
The Indianapolis skyline and canal

Only IU

When West was a sophomore in high school, his math teacher told him about his experiences at IU Bloomington. West went on a tour of the campus and fell in love. From that point on, it was IU or nothing.

“I only applied to IU,” said West, now a junior. “I just knew I was going to go to IU. So August 1, my senior year, I applied, as soon as it hit midnight.”

With the help of the 21st Century Scholars program, West made his way to IU. Although initially planning to be pre-med, he changed his major freshman year after hearing about human development and family studies in the School of Public Health-Bloomington.

Coming from a multicultural background—his father is black/Caucasian and his mother is Native American/black—West said he has always been curious about how his background affected him both culturally and biologically.

“I’ve always been curious as to why people turn out the way they are, especially biologically,” said West, who also minors in human-centered computing. “My grandma is white, but then my grandma on my mom’s side is black, so I would always wonder what made me lighter than my other family members.”

Overcoming doubt

Although enthusiastic about school, West had a hard time adjusting his freshman year to the pressure of being a first-generation college student.

“At first, I was scared,” he said. “I thought maybe my family didn’t go to college because they couldn’t do it and maybe I can’t do it. Since I was the accelerated student, I was the prize child, everybody put this pressure on me to go to college. I was scared to mess up because I thought my family was going to look down on me.”

But West pulled himself together and buckled down. He not only began achieving academically, he became more involved on campus, particularly serving as a mentor in the Groups Scholars Program, which helped him with his own struggles.

I wanted to mentor kids who are going through the same thing I went through—being overwhelmed and trying to be the voice of their family.

Looking beyond IU

Through IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, he also lived out another childhood dream of traveling abroad. The young kid who had his picture taken in front of a Chinese background at a Las Vegas hotel, fantasizing about the world outside, has now traveled to South Korea, China, and Japan as part of OVPDEMA’s study abroad program. He also spent time teaching English in Spain.

He has since become a DEMA ambassador, helping to promote the office’s programs such as its study abroad program.

“Who would have ever thought I would have traveled the world,” he said. “Growing up, I would have never imagined it, but here I am.”

Although being a first-generation college student can be tough, West—who hopes to one day work for a software company developing new technology or as a college professor—said he hopes his story helps others realize they are not alone.

“I’m very proud,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, and I am gaining a lot of confidence. I love being at IU. All the things I’ve done in college. I’m just really happy to be here.”

A smiling Eric West wears a black hat.
The Seoul skyline
Eric West takes notes at an event.

Eric’s journey to IU and what he has accomplished here is documented on Tried and True: Ten IU Bloomington students define what it means to be a Hoosier. Explore the other stories.

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