The Gaps in The Furman Advantage
How does my university racially profile me?
Furman University is a campus that preaches on the philosophy of diversity and inclusiveness — we have seen this repeatedly with students of color branded across campus life and academic pages. The inaccurate narrative Furman takes is not an anomaly in comparison to other predominantly white schools that tend to over-identify themselves as diverse communities.
The problem with Furman’s aspirations to “create a community of people representing a multiplicity of identities” is that it treats students of color as tokens. Inclusiveness is much more than portraying students of color in news articles or acknowledging Furman’s role in slavery. Inclusiveness is an unfolding process of action that affirms the humanity of each minority on campus, it is not only displaying a headshot in the Trone Student Center or working to strengthen diversity statistics. Inclusivity is not a one-step process, rather it demands individuality and intentionality.
When Furman fails to consult with the students who are within these pictures, the institution falls into a dangerous and offensive field of racial profiling. Displaying two students of color to represent the Muslim Student Association (MSA) — even if they have nothing to do with the organization (the student and I are not Muslim or a part of MSA), or the upcoming events — contradicts their objective to “embrace diversity as an…explicit practice in all of its endeavors.” Insinuating unfounded claims about the students present in the photo based on the color of their skin violates Furman’s written discrimination policy where students are prohibited from committing acts of intolerance. Should our university not be held to the same accountability as its students?
In the future, Furman should ask for explicit permission from students before posting content that assumes or implies their race, gender, religious preference, or sexual orientation. If Furman cannot uphold this low level contract of moral decency with its students, they may subject their students to future discrimination through their dissemination of false information through what are commonly thought of as reliable networks. The consequences of this negligence could leave students more susceptible to unwarranted discrimination in their future endeavors.
Minority students are not the pawns in Furman’s performance of diversity and inclusiveness — stop using us as if we are. Stop using me.
The Furman Advantage seems to be built on the principles of education, equity, and opportunities; but so as long as our campus fails to be truly inclusive, it fails to offer each student a comprehensive and equitable educational opportunity.
Rather, reoccurring instances of systematic discrimination by the university make it crystal clear which students will constantly have their place in this community used, questioned, or threatened.
For those of us with more privilege, the time to build is now. As we move forward with hopes of building inclusive spaces, I urge you to ask yourself these questions:
1. What faces and bodies do I see most?
2. Who is protected in the spaces that I inhabit?
3. Who do I actively allow to belong here?
As proud as I am to call Furman University my beautiful home, I recognize the ways it has ‘othered’ me. Despite Furman’s shortcomings, the people on this campus have listened and believed in me beyond my first-generation Asian American status. The people on this campus have welcomed me, the university has not. And with such radical support, it was I who took the leap and said: “I belong here, even when my university makes me feel like I don’t.”
We are not Samaritans. We are not the saviors, but the least we can do for collective humanity is to stop performing diversity, and start practicing it.
We are the movement. We are moving. But the revolution has just begun, and the reality is Furman is far from the inclusivity that it so loudly proclaims.
*It should be noted that since the publication of this article on October 22, 2018, I have received an apology from the Vice President of University Communications, and the picture in which two students were racially profiled has been removed. There has also been wide support of my article from the Political Science, Communications, Philosophy, English, and Sociology departments and for that I am beyond grateful.