Today, I stood outside of my office inside of the campus gymnasium in which I work and listened for two and half hours of students voicing their demands, stories, and concerns regarding the lack of diversity and inclusivity on campus. In the wake of the issues facing Missouri, Yale, Ithaca, Claremont McKenna, and various other campuses nationwide in which racial unrest has popped up, the University in which I work for decided to host an open forum to begin the dialogue to hopefully begin motions to solve issues on our campus, and of course to get out in front of what has been going on elsewhere in the nation.
Person after person, student after student, they all spoke about experiences and episodes in which they have been subjects of racial insensitivity, as well as the glaring lack of inclusivity on the campus. The statements were loud, they were direct, and I have to give it to these young adults, they were very poignant in calling out executives, faculty and the overall disappointment they have encountered. Many looking directly at deans, provosts, and others as they made their statements.
I stood there for the majority of it, and really took in a lot of what they stated. Obviously, some just had gripes just to have them, but there were plenty of legitimate concerns regarding campus inequality, racial insensitivity, lack of faculty representation, and the inability of the institution to meet the diversity expectations that should be normal.
As a person who attended a predominantly white undergraduate college, I too encountered my fare share of instances. From hearing the "N" word used to describe a group of black kids at a party, the overwhelming insensitive remarks from fellow students and coahces, the inability from some of my professors to meet the discussions on black or various other cultures that were relevant, and of course, the expectation to represent the "black" opinion when it did arise in conversation - in and out of the classroom.
To this very day I still remember one specific moment in a sport management class where students overwhelmingly agreed with the premise that black people were born with superior athletic genes. I'm not making this up. And of course, you know the conversation eventually swung to you-know-who to validate or refute it.
Nothing was more trying than existing in a society without many faces like mine. It's still one of the challenges which have shaped me today. For me, I still consider it a positive experience because it forced me to exist in such a space, in such a world.
But there I stood, in a university that is in the middle of New York City, and listened to students discuss having to go through the same issues in their classrooms, during their college experience in 2015.
Especially, the many, many, many Muslim students who took to the microphone to discuss the prejudice they deal with daily, and not so much from fellow students, but more so from professors and faculty.
"I sat in class listening to a discussion we had right after the Boston Marathon bombings in which a professor wanted to make a point that terrorists do not have a typical look. Some don't even belong to cells. She then looked at me and said, 'am I right? Can you shed more light on how they work'", one student shared.
For most of the forum, it seemed a lot of the issues came from faculty who had no cultural awareness, and enjoyed the fruits of tenureship.
When institutions have an homogeneous faculty who cannot relate to, nor inspire the ENTIRE student body, it doesn't bode well at all. At all.
To be honest, I've been told that many students gravitate towards me, find comfort in me. I still struggle with that responsibility. But I'll admit, I do have a soft spot for the minority student, the international student, or yes, even the first generation college student, regardless of race. I've been there. I was that student. And they know that.
Regardless, as the struggle moves on, I do think there needs to be a balance at how we look at race, especially among our young people. Yes, I am of the thinking that racism is real. And quite frankly, every young person needs to put on their big boy (or girl) pants and deal with it. That's life. Safe havens are unrealistic.
We must also understand that the four years you spend in college are very formative years where your viewpoint is changed, altered, and benefited. We all change as people. Personally. Spiritually. Physically. Emotionally. And of course, socially. Yes, that includes inclusive thinking, but even that has it's rough edges. It's a process that takes time, especially for many students who are encountering these different circles for the first time.
Personally, I still remember hearing, "You're like my first black friend, ever. I don't know many black people."
Of course, I once heard, "Black people are supposed to be loud and obnoxious. At least from what I heard. You're nothing like that.".
Regardless, campuses across the nation need to find a way to better impact and transform the thinking of students who hit their campuses in regards to race, as well as in dealing with the various aspects which separate us all.
Too often campuses look at diversity from the realm of the white privileged student. Diversity is not a representation of different people in said classroom, nor is it helping just white students to understand the viewpoints and culture of others. We, as a society, need to get away from this thinking.
For the first time ever, minorities around the world now have a voice. Seriously. I really mean that statement. Never before have there been such dialogue like this.
I plead, I actually beg this generation - all races - use the platform for change in an effective manner. Not just through hashtag movements and for empty trending purposes, but for true power. I applaud the young men in Missouri who protested for change by threatening to sit out of football games.
I tell my students all the time, they have the power. Because they do. If you want change, go make it happen. And quite frankly, after listening to those students today, change desperately needs to happen.