By Katherine Robinson ’23
In recent years, America’s Equal Rights conversation has begun to bolster the importance of ensuring not just equality, but equity in the lives of all American people. It has been made known that it is not enough for diversity to simply exist within any given space; rather, it must be welcomed, supported, and sustained – included. Gradually, and not without reluctance, American society has begun to realize the negative effects of repeated sameness with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. However, the most prevalent method used in attempting to solve this problem is to force diverse company into any given space and expect everyone involved to manage. The problem with this is that there is an immense amount of history that has a deep-rooted effect on the way that each and every individual is treated, and this reality does not just go out the window when faced with the diversification of any given arena. Too often, our dominant institutions, such as schools and workplaces, operate as though there are not differences among us that determine the way each person is treated and the extent to which they are given the same opportunities to succeed. Such is the plight of a diverse student.
If one were to visit a modern-day classroom, they would likely be greeted with a diverse assortment of pupils. They would probably see varying skin tones, hair types, eye colors, body-builds, etc. On the surface, the makeup of this classroom may seem like a perfect example of “how far America has come” and “peaceful coexistence.” However, if one were to observe a class discussion, recess, or lunchtime, they would see that those sentiments are far from the reality. Students who do not fit the “A-OK” mold of whiteness or heteronormativity are regularly alienated, mistrusted, and pressured to assimilate into their surroundings. A 2017 Medium article quotes Nathalia Patricio, a then junior: “In our attempt to prove we are just as smart, we may quiet our confusion…because we don’t want the white students…to consider us below them.” Case in point, of course these students existing in academic spaces counts for something, but the lack of inclusion damages their collective psyche and reduces their chances of academic success. Patricio goes on to say that “this of course can affect our grades and it’s not fair that our grades will suffer because of pressure and discomfort.”
In response to concerns like Patricio’s, primary and secondary institutions, as well as colleges, have sponsored student groups that allow for students of color to assemble recreationally, have fun, relax, and talk about their experiences in safe spaces. Though these groups offer diverse students a secure environment to express themselves, they can often keep a student’s world small. Cassandra Jackson, an English professor at the College of New Jersey, authored a Washington Post article about colleges making black student’s world smaller and writes “when they reunited weekly, I saw glimpses of joy…I asked them how they could expand these moments and create more spaces where they could feel belonging and acceptance. They glanced away…It was not their job to improve a school that was never intended for them.”
On that note, it is clear that society needs to work harder to ensure that diverse students can not only exist in academic spaces, but also that they be offered the same opportunities as everyone else once they get there. Speaking from personal experience, it is incredibly taxing to walk into a space, and having no choice but to have your appearance operate as the literal personification of your asymmetry and deviation from the most widely accepted social norms and if those who differ from you have not been taught to appreciate those differences, your experience can be incredibly adverse. Changes like these are inarguably long and strenuous, but they are a surefire way to ensure that each coming generation has horizons broader than their predecessors. In the words of Netflix’ s VP of Inclusion Strategy, Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”