The 18-year-old, who also stars on the show’s spinoff series, Grown-ish, opened up to PEOPLE for this year’s The Beautiful Issue, revealing that both of the hit series have given her platforms to share her thoughts.
“I feel like what Black-ish and Grown-ish have taught me is that my opinion matters,” she says. “It’s something that I already knew, and something that my parents always affirmed, but I guess it was a re-affirmation of sorts. Being on a set in which they want to hear your voice, and they want to hear your input — you know, it’s very special for an actor — but particularly, a teenager. And a teenage girl. There’s statistics done on just how subdued our voices are, because we aren’t really given a space, or the support.”
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She adds: “And being on a show like Black-ish to begin with, in which every week is a new topical issue that we’re discussing, it means that we had parallel conversations in real life. And I think it did do a lot of, it helped me prepare, just because it really did make me think, at the age of 14, at the age of 15, 16, 17, 18, what my opinion was, and why.”
- For more on Yara Shahidi, pick up a copy of PEOPLE’s The Beautiful Issue on stands Friday
Shahidi, who will attend Harvard in the fall, says she plans on double-concentrating in social studies and African-American studies, two topics that are extremely important to her.
“With everything that I say, or with everything that I learn, I try to be more and more intersectional in just my thoughts,” she says. “I think it’s fortunately very helpful, being at an intersection myself, of race, ethnicity, gender, geography. And so I’d have to say that I’m just trying every day to be the best human possible, and to figure out how I can contribute, and in which ways my platforms could be helpful, and which ways my voice can be helpful, so that I’m not speaking on behalf of somebody, but if I am able to be in a position in which I can amplify a message, then I am glad to do so.”
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Although Shahidi has yet to start college in real life, the actress —who plans to continue her career while attending school — has already started freshman year on her show Grown-ish.
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“We’re going to have very different experiences, which I’m really looking forward to, because of course I think Grown-ish college is nice, and of course, it’s taught me a whole lot about college that I didn’t know before, but it is cool to live a very alternative experience, and not feel as though my own college experience is being taken away from me, or I’m living it,” Shahidi says. “I get to live a new, authentic experience that’s going to be so different from what we do on set.”
Although Shahidi is more excited than nervous about attending school, she says there’s one thing that will definitely be different than her role on Grown-ish: dorm life.
“The dorms at Grown-ish are huge, so it’s gonna take a little bit of a paradigm shift to realize that that is not the size of an average dorm,” she says.