The dangerous deception of campus diversity

The idea of “campus diversity” is, in a sense, a crude way of simplifying a variance of student backgrounds, passions, and experiences into a mere mix of black and brown faces. As a young student of color in the college search process, “diversity” is often a factor at the top of the list. After all, it was for me. But this faux-diversity complex is created mainly by US colleges’ public relations departments, and it lures students of color into a community that may or may not be safe nor “diverse” at all, and effectively silences these same students when they vocalize their frustrations. I am horrified at the events currently unfolding on both Yale and the University of Missouri’s campuses, two schools that boast their diversity in their respective admissions advertising campaigns. How can a campus be diverse when one group of students faces death threats, is expected to attend class under threats of other students “waiting in the parking lot to shoot them,” and is denied entry to a Halloween party?

I, along with many other students of color, have encountered this faux diversity complex on Swarthmore’s campus. This type of deceptive diversity is incredibly evident during programs like Discover Swarthmore; Swarthmore flies in two hundred black and brown students, rolling out the “Garnet carpet” full of special events, affinity group support sessions, and promises of a flawlessly colorful college experience. The problem is, some of these starry-eyed high school students will end up attending Swarthmore and realize that POCs are often left behind here. It is true that there are various opportunities and resources for students of color on this campus, but the administration fails to recognize the fact that students of color might not be familiar with how to seek out this support.

I remember sitting in my high school literature class, the morning after I sent the last of my college applications. “You didn’t check off the African-American box, did you? You’re not really black. That would be unfair for the rest of us,” someone told me. If I had spoken out against the white student’s claim that I was playing into a “rigged admissions game,” I would be silenced. If I didn’t, I would be conforming to the systemic lack of black and brown voices speaking up about their specific needs during the college process.

When a student of color arrives at Yale expecting to be treated as an academic equal but lives among a community of students who find it acceptable to deny them entry to a halloween party based on their race, how can we expect our students of color to feel safe? How can we call this diverse? Why does a trending social media hashtag from college students around the world need to arise in support of these students when the diverse college administration promised them support in their brochures from the start of their college search process?

I applaud the current protests happening at Yale, University of Missouri, Bryn Mawr, and other institutions around the country. I also applaud the thousands of students who have already showed support through social media using the #InSolidarityWithMizzou and #ConcernedStudent1950 hashtags. However, aside from holding the students who denied party entry to black students at Yale and students who singlehandedly raised terror through anonymous death threats at Mizzou accountable, we must also hold administrations across the country accountable for the problems that arise after admitting a student body of many colors while overlooking the negative experiences they have at these schools.

Students of color don’t make these conflicts arise; when they realize that their college environment is not the safe and supportive one that they were promised, they take action and demand change. The dangerous misconception of campus “diversity” is a clear root cause of the racial conflicts we are seeing on campuses around the United States, and until college administrations make this term obsolete, and commit to taking real action when students of color who matriculate into their schools face tension and discrimination, students of color on college campuses across the nation, including those at Yale and Mizzou, will continue to be both misheard and mistreated.

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