Embracing diversity, not just tolerating it

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February 13, 2017

11:55 PM

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” as the idiom goes. And it’s so true; if you look at an average image used in official College of William and Mary advertising, some of the words and phrases that might come to mind would be “eclectic,” “school pride,” “multicultural,” “intellectual” and of course, “diverse.” Diverse is the ultimate buzzword when it comes to college admissions, and boy, did the College have me fooled as a prospective student. I’ll admit: there are lots of positives when it comes to diversity at the College. Organizations like the Asian American Student Initiative, Black Student Organization and South Asian Student Association have put on incredible programs throughout my time at the College that have greatly expanded my understanding of cultures and experiences both different than and affirming of my own. I will always be grateful to have gotten the chance to learn about Chuseok, Eid and so many other culturally significant observances from friends who know them intimately. However — and to clarify, I do not speak for all people of color at the College — experiencing this school as a minority student has at times been extremely unsatisfying and draining.

Diverse is the ultimate buzzword when it comes to college admissions, and boy, did William and Mary have me fooled as a prospective student.

On my first day of freshman orientation three years ago, a student told me that it must have been easy to get into the College due to my race, completely ignorant toward what I had accomplished in high school. I (and many of my friends and acquaintances) have had racial epithets slung my way on and around campus, and when I have chosen to share stories of such encounters, I have found myself justifying my story to people who would rather see the College as a bastion of tolerance and progressivism. I even started a Facebook page for a junior year project with Rachel Merriman-Goldring ’17 meant to document instances of microaggressions at the College which, once again, several students treated as a joke.

The College’s COLL curriculum only requires one course focused on non-Western cultures, effectively allowing students to graduate without hardly engaging with the vast world outside of the West.

In reality, many students of the College have little exposure to cultures and experiences unlike their own, including within their educational tracks. As Adom Whitaker ‘17 pointed out in a recent episode of The Real W&M, the College’s COLL curriculum only requires one course focused on non-Western cultures, effectively allowing students to graduate without hardly engaging with the vast world outside of the West. This lends itself to an imperialist and frankly white supremacist mindset that makes it crystal clear why instances of white students at the College laughing at students with non-white accents or wearing non-white garb have continually occurred. Students of color at the College deserve to feel like we belong here, and instances of racial intolerance and othering based on what we look like should have no place at any institution of higher learning.

Outside of unfortunate person-to-person interactions, the College also fails to accommodate a multicultural student populace due to its lack of diverse faculty and its barely-funded Center for Student Diversity (CSD). The dearth of professors of color on campus places an undue burden on those who are here, many of whom are tasked with acting as both diversity consultants to their cohorts and as mentors to their students of color. These professors are not paid more for this extra work that they put in, and as more and more of the College’s faculty of color opt to leave and pursue opportunities elsewhere, the strain on both minority students and professors only increases. The CSD does its best with what it is given, but there is only so much that one classroom-sized space, a couple of offices and a handful of employees can do to serve the needs of the roughly 2,000 non-white students that make up the undergraduate population. Many similar universities house LGBTQ centers, black students’ centers and other more focused diversity efforts that give marginalized students invaluable resources as we navigate where we fit. The College’s fundraising needs to target so much more money toward advancing professor and student diversity, because without it, the College reverts right back to the old boys’ club image it had for a long, long time.

Imagine a campus-wide protest in which all students of color suddenly refused to appear in any media related to William and Mary.

So, how should frustrated students of color move forward? If greater efforts are not being made to improve our experiences at this predominantly white institution, why should we be expected to continue allowing ourselves to be exploited for the sake of making the College look diverse? Imagine a campus-wide protest in which all students of color suddenly refused to appear in any media related to the College. Imagine the disappearance of non-white faces from everything having to do with the College. While that image is meant more to provoke thought than constitute a legitimate suggestion, I do believe that an effective form of action to start with might be for cultural organizations to refuse to perform at the annual Day for Admitted Students. Show the administration how much this school suffers without the presence, actions and performances of students of color on one of the most high-profile days of the academic year. Maybe then diversity funding will increase in a serious way. Our most powerful weapons are the non-white faces that the College loves to prop up whenever it can.

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  • Kyle Lopez