That might have caught most of you off guard as a demeaning statement, but, in my opinion, we all need to stop brushing over the word “diversity.” I thought I knew the meaning until I was bombarded with the many questions about how I contribute to diversity on campus, as if that’s my role at Boston College.
We use the word to fill in a missing hole in our vocabulary. We use it to make sense of years and years of systemic racism, ignorance, and inappropriate action. Students, professors, admissions officers, we just spit out the word nonchalantly as if it’s gum and smack it right on the shaking, broken down wall that’s ready to crack at any given moment. It’s here at BC where I’ve realized that while we are privileged to be receiving such a renowned education at a prestigious university that preaches the practice of discernment and men and women for others, we do not practice what we preach. To sum it all up, if it is men and women for others why is it never white and non-black people of color for black students, faculty, and staff?
It shocks me how often we say things without considering their meaning. Think about it, what does diversity even mean? When someone says it, do you think about the dance groups on campus, the culture clubs, the non-white students, or do you not think that white people are diverse at all?
After my arrival at BC, I was hit with a huge wave of culture shock. Being born and raised in Senegal, then immigrating to the Bronx and then later moving to Harlem, you can only imagine my face the first day of classes freshman year when all of the diversity that was preached was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until I took a sociology class with professor Cedric Michael Simmons that I began to analyze the word that we’ve been carelessly flaunting around. Based on my personal experiences on campus, to me the word actually is a code for a predominantly white institution with a sprinkle of a few black, Asian, Indian, Latino, Native American students etc. that briefly talks about differences while dismissing the actual racism and animosity toward non white people on campus.
It might be uncomfortable to some that this is the definition that I have generated from my experiences with the word, however, it really shouldn’t surprise those who are aware of racism. Let’s face it, being a Muslim black woman is only noticeable to me when other students, faculty, and the administration make it uncomfortable by vigorously pointing out my differences. There is nothing wrong with talking about our differences—in fact, I support that completely, because our differences make us unique. But participating in an open conversation is entirely different from being treated as “the other.” Asking me about the “black experience” as if I represent all black people treats me as an other. Would it really make sense if I asked each random person about their [insert socially constructed identity here] experience?
Does the school actually care about “diversity” or does it sound more like marketing? Tour guides often mention to mostly (physically) white tour groups how important diversity is. I am not saying that there aren’t administrators, staff, and students who do not care about the actual physical, emotional, and mental health, as well as the overall well-being of black students on campus, but this cycle of branding black students as the gatekeepers and solution to BC’s racism problem is becoming redundant.
If diversity is one of the most important things on campus, why is there a racist incident directly and specifically toward black students every single year? To say the very least, this is my opinion, and I believe and have faith that the good people of BC will eventually realize that we, as black students, are not a threat, but rather humans, and we need to be treated as such, not a picture on an admissions brochure to mix up some colors.
As a black woman, I am beautiful, I am intelligent, but I am not magic because I am also flawed. I am human, and I have feelings. Just like any student from any background, I came to school to find my passions, build my business, influence for the better, and earn my degree. It becomes enervating when I am constantly compelled to represent “diversity” on campus because I refuse to be degraded. I am human before anything else, so I deserve to be treated as such.