There’s no doubt that we live in a more progressive society. On college campuses specifically, there’s clubs and organizations that fit the views and needs of everyone. However, just because there is somewhere for “everyone” doesn’t mean that the campus is inherently diverse. As a current college student, I have found that diversity on campus MATTERS.
I’m currently going into my sophomore year of college. I came in a semester early to do a program that was targeted toward “underrepresented” students. There were a little over 100 students participating. During the program, everyone looked like me or at least had multiple things in common with me. At the time, I wasn't nervous about the school year starting because I saw myself represented in this small sample of kids. It wasn’t until the program ended, and the whole population of students returned to campus, that the nerves kicked right back in. I was shocked at the lack of diversity in the whole student body. So, not too long after, I felt overwhelmingly isolated and small.
Diversity is usually defined as having a mix of people from different races, ethnicities, income-status, sexual identity, age, etc. College campuses add first-generation students as part of the mix too. From the website of my campus specifically, here are the stats. For reference, my school has roughly 30,146 enrolled students total.
46% Racial/ethnic minority students
14th in the U.S. for African American students with a bachelor's degree in Computing
1,977 International students
The statistics of a "diverse" campus mean nothing if the school is not making efforts to cater to the students that make them diverse. People who make up the diversity on campus simply are just another statistic if this is the case.
We've all seen the coming-of-age movies that take place during high school. There's always cliques of students-- the jocks, nerds, the emos, etc. I’ve noticed that most of the people in these subgroups are mostly white. The Black (and often Asian, too) students are often then all grouped together. Portrayals like these group people of color by their race, while white people get put into groups based on their personalities and interests. White students seem to not have a super hard time finding where they fit in. For students of color, though, it’s an exhausting chore of scavenging for somewhere you belong. This is how it is for us all the time.
Within the first couple days of the Fall semester, I was looking around for all kinds of organizations and clubs for students of color as well as other identities. I wanted to find groups of people of color that also had an interest to go along with it, instead of just another “Black club.” I did find a handful of them, but when I looked closer, I saw that most of the groups had been disassembled or were inactive. I was SO frustrated. Meanwhile, the school would actively advertise groups like Engineering Club, Girls Who Code, and other career-based groups with very little diversity within them. After weeks of looking though, I found two groups that fit me and I joined them both.
Once you find a group of people who you relate to, you have a backbone. You have people who you know will understand where you’re coming from and where you’re trying to go. It’s like having a sub-family who knows you better.
My college is a PWI (predominantly white institution). I knew this while coming in, but still chose to attend this school because I felt like it was still a good fit for me. When I was searching for colleges, I looked at cost, location, graduation rates, etc. What I did not think about, however, was what resources on campus would directly benefit me as a minority. Thankfully, I did find a few resources that did just this. My school’s therapy/mental health office offers group meetings and one-on-one therapy specifically for Black students as well as only women.
In schools that lack these resources, it’s not far-fetched to assume that some students most likely feel unsupported at school. I also think it is important to have staff in these areas that represent the students they are helping. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do think that it would be difficult to open up about struggles of being a minority to someone who couldn’t relate.
Challenging the Minds of Staff and Students
Schools in places that lack progressiveness, probably still hold “traditional” ideals. If I really need to explain this, I mean that these schools are probably still racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. *By having an eclectic body of students, the perspectives of staff can change. Not having a diverse student body allows communities to hold on to harmful stereotypes and prejudices. Without experience (by interacting with different people, in this case) you cannot adapt to an ever-changing society. If a school continues to hold harmful beliefs, the experience for minority students can become toxic and harmful very quickly. This would just fuel self-hatred within students and tension within the school and greater community.
* I must add, though, that minority students do not exist simply to educate people on how to not suck as a person.
If a school continues to hold harmful beliefs, the experience for minority students can become toxic and harmful very quickly. This would just fuel self-hatred within students and tension within the school and greater community.
So, the answer is YES. Diversity on college campuses really does matter. Especially on campuses where a larger population of minorities exists. Helping students who aren't part of the majority is an important part of making students feel safe and included, while also enriching the community.
Here are some ways for you as a faculty/staff, or as a curious person, to help the experience of minority students in your greater community:
Talk to people!
This may seem simple enough, but getting to know the students/staff around you is the first step to increasing social consciousness. By doing so, you can notice and learn about the issues the student body is facing, and how being unrepresented affects them.
Do something about it.
Take what you hear from the people that you talk to, and advocate for them. Think of ways to improve the experiences of ALL students on campus.
Remember that minorities have interests and hobbies outside of their identity.
Black people, gay people, first-generation students, etc., all have personality traits, interests, and hobbies. While it's good to have general groups for identities like these, remember that it is not someone's only identity. For example, I'm in a club called "Black Women in Science" which combines an identity with an interest.