I did not expect culture shock when I first drove into Williamsburg to move in to my freshman dorm three years ago. I had lived in the Southeast before, after all, having spent five years in North Carolina. I had also lived in Connecticut, Arizona and Oregon. I was ready, I thought, for whatever culture the College had to offer. That culture, I have found, is whiteness. Whiteness and Christianity and heterosexuality. If you are not white, Christian and straight then you do not always feel welcome at the College.
p. Though it is impossible to objectively prove the hostility towards minorities that exists here, few of us are able to go long without glimpsing this most singularly embarrassing aspect of the College.
p. I first heard a fellow student use the word “nigger” on my second night of orientation. I had never heard it in person before but I have since heard it — as well as “spic,” “kike,” “fag” and “slant” — many times. I’ve heard these words spoken behind closed dorm-room doors, whispered at parties and exclaimed as the punch-lines of so many tasteless jokes.
p. I learned to hide my own Jewish heritage from my fellow students. I pretended not to mind the jokes. I quietly erased the messages of hate — “dirty Jew” was their favorite — written across the white board on my door by three of my freshman hallmates. When I once walked into a party and heard “who invited the fucking Jew,” I simply went to a different party. My freshman roommate was smarter. He rarely told people he was His-panic and, though I never asked him, I believed he allowed people to assume he was simply tan.
p. But my freshman roommate and I are lucky compared to our besieged homosexual classmates. Students of the College love to use the words “gay” and “fag” in any disparaging sense they can dream up. Gay jokes are a sure-fire hit. When one of the College’s relatively few openly gay students dares to venture within sight, many students are apt to complainingly call their college “William and Harry.”
p. The source of the bigotry so prevalent on our campus is easily identified and just as easily fixed. Hate is a natural response to fear, and people fear what they don’t understand. Take a quick look around campus and you will see why students have such a hard time understanding minority students — there are few here.
The College’s homogenous population — as well as the problems it causes — is no secret to the administration. Associate Provost for Enrollment Earl Granger told The Flat Hat last spring that increasing diversity has become a major priority since College President Gene Nichol’s arrival in 2005.
p. Nichol, Granger said, “has made it very clear that he is looking for a much broader and diverse group of students here at William and Mary.”
p. Improvements in diversity have been significant. Outreach programs to minority-heavy high schools, the Ron Brown Scholar Program and Nichol’s newly created “Gateway” scholarships have all contributed to the recent rise in diversity. The number of African-American, American Indian and Hispanic students admitted in 2006 rose 37 percent from the previous year. But there is still a long way to go.
p. The College’s student body is embarrassingly homogenous compared to similar universities. According to the 2008 edition of The Princeton Review, only 21 percent of students at the College belong to a group college admissions officers call “students of color:” African-American, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and international students.
p. Though I despise the term for its emphasis on skin tone over cultural heritage, I must use it to accurately discuss college admissions statistics. Two other public universities in Virginia, U. Va. and George Mason University, have 27 percent and 36 percent students of color, respectively. Duke University, perhaps the most prestigious university in the Southeast, also has 36 percent students of color.
p. The prestige and quality of a university seem to be linked directly to the diversity of that university’s student body. Yale and Harvard both claim just under 40 percent students of color. We are not Yale or Harvard, and that’s a good thing — the heritage of the College is an identity of which we should all be rightly proud. But it can’t hurt to see what the world’s educational vanguards are doing, and that is diversity.
p. The rationale for a diverse student body is clear to anyone who has suffered through an ethnic joke. Diversity is a very real kind of education in and of itself, and it is one in which our student body is sorely lacking. No matter how skilled in business or government or education our graduates may be, if they have not learned to accept a minority peer as an equal, then they are not educated. Because it is the College’s responsibility to educate, it is its duty to create a diverse student body. As a public college in a state where a third of the population qualifies as being “of color,” it should not be hard.
p. __Max Fisher is a senior at the College.__