Diversity on the University Campus
I went to a high school that was 50% African American, 30% white, 10% Asian, and 10% other. That sounds diverse, right? Sure, in number, but yet, we were still subject to the same diversity-related complaints that colleges deal with today. Maybe even worse in some ways. Black students at my school were referred to as “ghetto people”, other black students referred to them as “those people”. I am mixed race, but mostly African American and I wasn’t even considered “black” at my school, rather, I was “an oreo”. “Black” was an insult to intelligence. But this begs the question, how did this happen at a school where different races are exposed to each other and communicating with one another on a daily basis? Well, that’s the thing. We weren’t. The school de facto segregated with the low income students, vast majority of the time black, taking lower level college-prep courses and the higher income students, usually white or Asian, taking Honors and Advanced Placement courses. The one-glance exposure to each other led us to think grossly of other with little perspective and empathy. The point of this being, diversity isn’t just numbers, it’s interaction, and that is a view that efforts to increase diversity at colleges and universities miss. To start, we’ll take a look at the bubble that is my university which is 77% white and 23% African American, Asian, Latino, etc. as according to the website!(To be honest. I’m literally laughing at how these stats are reported)
Because of the fact that I was never really considered “black” despite my skin color, my entire life, I have been surrounded by white and Asian students and I have had no problem whatsoever getting along with them. Many of my friends are white, Asian, or Indian up to now so my social life in college has been great. This is why it surprised me when I went to a diversity-related forum at my university and heard student after student say “I don’t know how I would have survived here if it weren’t for [insert program for black students]” or “I had the hardest time finding friends here because of the lack of diversity” and other such comments. Meanwhile, in my world, I’m dating a white man, almost half of my friend group is white, only some of my friends are black, but my social world is very smooth. Now, as I said, that’s my own world, so I can’t speak for other black students. However, this forum did make me think about something.
Universities push to increase the number of black students on campus in the hopes of increasing ‘diversity’. What does that actual student body plan to do with these increases, though? Based on that forum, it sounds as though what students want is to do is de facto segregate. The California State University decision to create segregated housing supports this along with UConn, UC Davis, and UC Berkley, who have done the same. As schools push for this increase in black students, students expect to see the number of race-related incidents decline, but how will this happen if students of different races aren’t interacting? When someone is placed in a homogeneous environment all their lives, without exposure to other backgrounds and types of people, that environment becomes their world and what they know of these other types of people becomes an assumption. If students deliberately segregate themselves from people like these, campus becomes two separate worlds with their own sets of assumptions and these race-related problems don’t decline. So what can we do ensure that students do interact so that universities don’t just look numerically diverse when we finally start to see increases in the number of African American students?
There are different ways to do this. One of the best ways is to integrate interaction into the curriculum. This can mean grouping students of different skin colors so that they can interact with one another to reach a common goal. It can mean having students do projects and attend discussion-based seminars that require them to reflect on historical aspects of race. Residence halls can hold floor or hall events that allow students to interact with one another. (Sidenote: Cultural events on campus generally don’t work, as events such as those tend to attract, mainly, people of that culture). I’m sure that there are so many more ways. If universities can build solid racial interaction, though, they can meet an important aspect of diversity as a whole. This aspect can even help to bring more black students in, as they will see that they can be comfortable and be a fit in an environment. While numerical diversity is an important aspect of diversity as a whole, let us not forget the importance of interaction.