After the conclusion of my third semester at Duke, it has come to my attention that there are many things that even the best education does not properly or even at all. Concepts, concrete events, whole movements of Othered people (totally throwing some shade). Something that I feel needs to be addressed is the progress of our country and just how far we have come from the time of Jim Crow and its gruesome history. The Civil Rights movement has been and continues to be whitewashed in history due to its resistance to Eurocentric standards and way of life. In class, we learn about how the state of our country is improving constantly, some have even gone as far to say that we have reached a post-racial status. But with Black Lives Matter, movements fighting for the rights of the indigenous people, the rejecting of refugees, college protests, and grotesque police brutality, just how far have we moved from the times of Jim Crow and ‘Whites Only’. Fountain signs?
If you’re a minority and you’ve ever called out some type of racism, no doubt that you’ve heard “well I have __ friends, so I can’t be racist.” Or you’ve gotten the lecture about how this is 2015, not 1915. Or, if you’re in college, especially a predominantly white institution like me, you’ve gotten the whole “well, you came here, so this place / I / my thoughts can’t possibly be racist.” I feel like I’ve spent so much time trying to explain why something is racist or offensive that I haven’t had near as much time to explain how to change it. And while I do understand that picking and choosing your battles are key, there is a need to react with some form of patience, depending on the situation.
At Duke, and other colleges and universities across the nation, they are both bound by the public and by the students. They need for the public to feed into the prestige, but it also needs these students to continue to have that social clout. They also owe it to the donors and financial backers who help fund these institutions. So when it comes to recruiting students and financial contributors, they work to appeal to them in every possible way. One of the most effective methods is to promote diversity and to make it known that they work toward encompassing a holistic approach of the world. But just how diverse have they gotten, and where does integration fit in?
This is such a big topic, and I could go on for a while, but for now, I want to address the populations of people of color and marginalized people at these institutions and where they fit into environments. When those students at Mizzou who protested made national news we got the idea that this was the first time they had stood up against the ineffectiveness of their President, and we continued to believe that as other schools stood up. But in actuality, there’s been struggle long before the time of smartphones and Twitter. The difference now is that with the increase of the public view and advancement of technology, we have more opportunity to publicly critique and judge.
Marginalized students come on to campus expecting to find a community that overall accepts them and welcomes them as they go through the next phase in their lives. Instead, what they get is emotional, and sometimes physical trauma as well as fatigue. At schools like Duke and Yale, most of the students and faculty are white. And what isn’t told to the marginalized students is what is expected of them upon arrival. They are expected to unpack their painful experiences at the expense of their classmates and professors learning more. These students are the diversity, but are expected to do the work of educating these students and faculty about their history, struggle, culture, and more. And while that would make for a perfect opportunity for cultural exchange, which would actually help with diversity, it leads to white validation, which puts those who are white at an advantage.
These institutions were never meant for these marginalized students to be there. They were built to educate those who fit into the sphere of whiteness, to give them opportunities that would advance them further than those who are marginalized. These institutions are built on the wealth and bodies of those people, yet they were created so that they could figure out ways to further marginalize them, while they continue to benefit.
After Brown v. Board of Education, schools began welcoming more and more students of color, but not without reluctance. There were many sit-ins and protests for basic rights, such as designated spaces for them like living areas and buildings. And we have seen recently, these struggles are still ongoing. There have been many instances in which students have been questioned by campus security as to whether they are trespassing, like a recent incident with a recent grad student on Duke’s Perkins Library, or they have been severely harmed in proximity to campus, like Martese Johnson. When students face macro aggressions on campus, these colleges and universities tend to turn away from the students’ voices and ignore the fact that there are students that feel unsafe.
We have reached a point where you can go onto most campuses and see faces from different countries and backgrounds, but that’s a superficial way of determining whether we have reached a state of integration. Integration means the combining of different things into a whole, and that is not where we’re at yet by far. We have desegregated, brought two groups together, but these groups are not merged together, simply due to the inherent nature of these institutions. Without making any changes to the way education is done, or the way you center the students and faculty, you can’t expect students to feel as one. Perhaps there isn’t an easy way to fix this problem, but by expecting those who are marginalized to fix a problem that they did not create, it only perpetuates the issues.