Sun. May 26th, 2024

In the first part of my report, I wrote about Black students’ experiences with racism and prejudice on campus. To recap what I mentioned in the first part, #blackatpwi is a hashtag for Black students to openly share their experiences being at primarily white institutions (PWI). The hashtag covers a wide range of subjects, from handling racially contentious class debates to overcoming feelings of loneliness in school. These topics also resonate on multiple social media sites, such as Instagram and Twitter. Even though students have expressed their concerns, it begs the question, what proactive steps are administrators taking at the policy level to create a safer environment? 

Most of that investigation led me to sitting down with a faculty member and asking their thoughts on how Black and other multicultural students seek sanctuary on campus. From that, I learned how Diversity and Inclusion programs at many PWIs are based on the idea of “visual representation,” which designates specific areas and resources for marginalized students. However, these initiatives are only  effective if the underrepresented student population actively promotes and engages with them. As a result, the projects often come to a standstill and are unable to make substantial progress in the absence of genuine input and engagement from the target audience. In order to bring about real change, it was suggested that administrators must recognize how critical it is to not only establish these diverse areas and services, but also actively promote them and take into account any insightful input from underrepresented communities. Genuine cooperation and inclusivity are the only ways in which PWIs can effectively create learning environments in which every student feels heard, respected and safe.

I decided to connect with these students to see if they held the same sentiments. In my interviews, I allowed the students to remain anonymous and provided them with pseudonyms.

One student talked about their experience as a Black woman dealing with racist encounters on campus. Despite their overall positive experience at West Chester, “Green” still recalls incidents of racism and misogynoir on campus. “This semester alone, I have ended two separate friendships because of this prejudice,” they said. “I have been sexualized as a Black woman and have had my race used as the punchlines of jokes on many occasions.” 

Green emphasized that while these encounters were not large enough in their opinion to be reported, they still made note that they would much rather report to administration than to public safety. “There is a difference in privilege between POC students who come from places of diversity and white students who have never interacted with minorities, and it’s so clear that you can almost see it visually,” they said. 

In a 2020 case study, researchers analyzed the overt and covert racial organization of social spaces and the ways in which systemic white supremacy is facilitated by racialized spaces. These are known as “White Spaces.” Students of color, primarily Black, may face a variety of difficulties in places where the majority population is white, such as discrimination, tokenization, estrangement and invisibility. People from marginalized racial or ethnic backgrounds may find it difficult to fully participate in society and to be represented due to the dominance of white culture and traditions. People of color may also experience an environment that is unfriendly or unwelcoming due to microaggressions, which are subtly racist acts.

What is important to note about this study is that both researchers were able to find ways in which people themselves hold a form of power over what happens within a system or institution. I decided to research more into how the concept impacts institutions like West Chester University. Diversity and Inclusion is often defined as representing a group of marginalized and multicultural people who get to know and work with one another. This means that different perspectives and groups come together to collaborate and share ideas that can better the overall representation of an institution. From curriculum building to community engagement, fostering diversity and inclusion in higher education requires a broad approach that addresses its systemic barriers, promotes cultural understanding and competence and creates a supportive and affirming environment for all members of the campus community. But why is this so hard to achieve?

I investigated four additional universities in the local area to see if there were any similarities or differences in the way racial discrimination reporting was handled. Neumann University, located in Delaware County, PA, has a far more in-depth reporting form that asks more concise and coherent questions as to what occurred in the incident. Checkboxes that can be utilized to describe the nature of the incident and the types of conduct involved are included as well. Drexel University, located in Philadelphia, PA, functions in the same way, with an additional option to involve other centers on campus as well. I won’t critique or crucify WCU too much on their reporting system; schools like Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA and even Temple University in Philadelphia are not as thorough. Wilson College doesn’t provide an option for students to specify the type of discrimination that occurred and at Temple, you would have to speak with an Equal Opportunity (EO) Ombudsperson. An Ombudsperson is essentially an official who investigates complaints. This basically means that students would have to speak to someone directly instead of having an anonymous or formed option. That isn’t always an easy choice for marginalized students to make when reporting incidents, especially if it involved an official administrator of the university.

Many of the students I sat down with have talked about how to navigate these white spaces, most of them knowing that reporting incidents can often lead to more harm than good. “I think that many students just feel unheard and unseen most of the time,” said “Pink,” an undergraduate student at WCU. Pink described how minor encounters and microaggressions have impacted their education. “I usually sit in the back of classrooms and rarely raise my hand,” they said. “It’s easier not having all those eyes on me.” Another student that was with Pink had also commented on how visible they feel being in predominantly white spaces on campus. “I don’t like going to certain events on campus because I know I won’t see a lot of people that look like me. I know that if anything were to happen, I’d be the first person they look for,” they said.

When I asked students about how to limit racial discrimination on campus, I was given a variety of strategies, such as broadening the diversity of leadership and decision-making bodies, instituting anti-racism training, establishing more visible support networks or affinity groups for marginalized people and encouraging candid discussions about privilege and race that can be used to address the problems associated with white spaces on campus. “I don’t think it’s a hard thing to do,” Pink said. “Let’s stop dancing around the topic and say how we feel so that we can be more productive about this.”

 


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

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