Sun. May 26th, 2024

#blackatpwi is an ongoing and active space where Black students publicly share their experiences. Topics ranging from racially motivated classroom discussions to campus isolation have circulated throughout the tag and have been adopted across several platforms including Instagram and Twitter. While many of these students use their platforms to address racial discrimination on campus, what are administrators doing to help those students feel safer on a policy level? Many PWI (Predominantly White Institutions) rely heavily on “visual representation” to promote their diversity and inclusion initiatives, meaning they have spaces and resources, but they receive little to no promotion and make almost no progress forward without the voices of an underrepresented student body.

This will be my third time reporting on the impact of diversity and inclusion in higher education spaces. This will be my third time talking about the consistent discrimination that Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) face while attending university. This will be the third time where I will be writing a call to action for administrators to listen and advocate for their students to have a safer space to pursue their education. My initial research began in the fall of 2021 at my university when students returned to campus after the national quarantine ended.

I conducted a survey asking my fellow peers how they felt about getting involved on campus, whether this was through a club organization, on-campus job positions, sports, etc. While many of those white students expressed interest in finding out more about the resources, I still felt like there was a lack of resources for students of color. That experience led me to further research into how diversity and inclusion showed up for students of color on campus. I wrote another article the following year in the fall of 2022 titled “What’s it really like to go here?” This article dived deeper into not only how students of color were treated but also LGBTQ+ students as well. That still didn’t feel like enough.

Because despite the amount of research and writing I was putting into those articles, there were still active occurrences of students of color being discriminated against on campus. Several incidents of public safety mishandling, uncomfortability in classrooms and dozens of town hall meetings that went nowhere led me to understand that students are going unheard. Even with an Office of Diversity and Inclusion on standby, there were still students who were actively being told that their experiences were accounted for, yet nothing was being done to remedy their discomfort from simply existing on the college campus. 

A recent report on discrimination was released by State Senator Art Haywood through PASSHE. According to Olivia Schlickman, a reporter for The Quad newspaper at WCU, “The efforts accumulated over 170 comments reported by over 100 students and alumni across PASSHE, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The reported incidents included racist speech, stereotyping, inequitable educational opportunities and inadequate faculty representation.” 

I was featured in this article as well and was asked to give my thoughts on the matter. As the President of two multicultural student organizations, I have had first-hand experiences dealing with college administrators dancing around the topic of discrimination and prejudice on their campus.

Shelby Lewis, a fourth-year student and president of WCU’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, has felt concern over the lack of Black representation on campuses and the challenges that students of color face on campus for some time. “The most important thing is that there’s the feeling that we can’t say or do anything about it,” Lewis said. “Or, are they really gonna care if we do say anything about it?”

Of course, this is a more watered-down version, more suitable for publication, than the absolute reality of many Black and other students of color on campus. Had the response been from some students who had personal accounts of active discrimination, would there have been a wider recognition received from administrators that do frequent the publication?

I sat down with “Blue.” Blue identifies as a Black person and has chosen to keep their identity private. They are also new to WCU, having only recently been hired. But even as they begin to hang their calendars and posters to claim their new office space, they are already familiar with age-old practices of White microaggressions in higher education. Blue has had several encounters with PWI campuses as their undergraduate, graduate and other work environments have been at predominantly White colleges and universities across the country. “My experience working at PWIs has generally been one of complacency,” they said. “The general attitude towards [people of color] is to keep people happy and quiet, depending on the level of power they have in disrupting the status quo.” Blue noted tokenism is used as a decoy to cover up for the little to no positive engagement that BIPOC communities on campus face. “They care a lot about superficial things like celebrating a lot during Black History month…but when it comes to real cultural engagement and equity work, that doesn’t happen,” said Blue. They also noted that public safety on PWI campuses tends to handle BIPOC events in a way that is deemed hostile. These experiences contribute to feelings of isolation, stress and alienation, ultimately impacting their overall well-being and academic success. Yet, these feelings often go masked. “It’s like having your finger in the dam, but not acknowledging the leak,” said Blue. They finally concluded that BIPOC people help each other on these campuses. By engaging in identity spaces on campus including any multicultural center or LGBTQ+ support group, many BIPOC, including the QTBIPOC (Queer and Transgender Black and Indigenous People of Color) communities, find themselves seeking that sanctuary. Sanctuary away from discrimination and harm, but also from the groups that are supposed to aid in helping campus members.

 


Shelby Lewis is a fourth-year English major with a minor in journalism. SL956954@wcupa.edu

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