April 26, 2008

Critical Mass or Culturally Inclusive

Working at a predominantly white institution (PWI), the conversation of how to increase diversity is at the center of our planning. But, I'm often asked, "What do we do?" In my opinion, there are 2 camps: those who believe that we must do all we can to obtain a critical mass, or a 'magic number' where students of color no longer are marginalized due to their numbers; and there are those who believe we must first create an environment that is welcoming and ready for the group of students (in our case, students of color).

I belong to the second camp... and often advocate for the need to change and transform our current community.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Stonehill shares characteristics that many colleges our size, location, identity, etc., share. We are not unique. Unfortunately, not at all. We are one of many, many colleges that struggle to diversify the student body, administration and faculty.

I'm often asked to find ways to increase the number of students of color at Stonehill. I do it. But, I do it with hesitation. While I'd love to see more faculty, staff and students of color here, I know what they will face. I know what they're up against.

For the most part, the community is interested in diversity. They welcome the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people. They realize that we are not getting a rich and dynamic conversation without diversity. Diversity is a top priority in our strategic plan, in our office's mission, in the mission inherent in our Catholic identity. While we welcome the opportunity, do we welcome the students?

The "critical mass" camp asserts that we must have more people of color here in order to begin the conversations that will transform our community. That, without a critical mass, students will always feel like "tokens". Without a critical mass, students will always be singled out to speak for the entire community.

As you can tell, I believe that if we bring a critical mass to an environment that isn't culturally inclusive, we're asking for trouble. We can expect even more stereotypes. We can expect even more culturally insensitive comments in classrooms.

I equate this example to the rickety porch at my dad's house - it was built years ago, has been greatly weathered, and lacks sturdy posts. Some of the floor boards have nails sticking out. Back when it was built, that porch was the best spot in the house. We ate on a big picnic table on the porch, hung out with our friends on that porch, and had some of the best conversations out on that porch. Sometime, about 5-7 years ago, we all just stopped going out onto the porch. It began to feel weak. It began to feel unsafe. And, now, no ones goes near it. We are afraid that, if someone steps on it, it will collapse. We are often afraid that it will crumble underneath us. And, while the porch could certainly hold about 2-3 people, we would never even think about putting more than that on there.

The rickety porch, to me, represents a culturally insensitive environment. The group of people is my critical mass. Before I invite a critical mass, or guests to my dad's house, over, I would want to reinforce the community -- reinforce that porch.

Ring in. What are your thoughts? Culturally sensitive environment .... critical mass...?

April 7, 2008

Are we undesireable?

Dating (or attempting to date) at a Predominately White Institution (PWI) is pretty tough stuff. Now, I must announce to the whole world that I love men of all ethnicities. I do! I have either dated men or have had crushes on men of all races at some point in my young life. I had had white boyfriends, hispanic boyfriends, and I dated one or two black guys in my youth. How they compare? I just think men in general are pretty complicated beings. But I do enjoy their company, wit, conversation and antics/dangerous stunts.

As a Latina woman of mixed race ancestry, it is tough out here trying to find a little bit of love. I have had lengthy conversations with my female (and some male) ALANA friends about this issue. Amongst us we have tried to determine the cause as to why most of us are single. I must note that the following is largely from a heterosexual point of view. It is probably ten million times more difficult to date at a PWI as a gay person of color!

We might be unintentionally intimidating white men and women.
--Maybe POC are scary because we are so different from what is "normally" available as love interests in small home towns.
--Is it because we hang out in groups with each other? Would it be easier (in general) if as young men and women we didn't congregate in large groups with one another?
--On the flip side, is it difficult to approach us if we are alone?

White men and women do not know how to approach us / ask us out.
--Again, maybe because we are surrounded by other POC
--I think some whites have the false pretense that you have to approach us just like we are approached in our home towns/cities. This plays into the stereotype that all POC (especially blacks and Hispanics) are ghetto and you have to be a "hood rat" or a wigger in order to get any attention from us. This is not true! Case in point: me. I grew up in Boston and I could NOT be any less ghetto. For goodness sakes, my favorite band is Korn! (rock/alternative metal). I cannot possibly explain to you how I became a metal fan b/c I also went to predominately black and hispanic schools and lived in predominately minority/low-income neighborhoods.

White men and women do not think we are into them / would date them.
--I have been told this A LOT by white guys I have dated. They have told me that they simply thought that I only liked other POC and did not date outside of my race. I have often thought that maybe I should wear a large sign on weekends that says "Equal Opportunity Dater."

"My parents would kill me if I brought home a black/Hispanic girl (or guy)"
--It's really tough to counter this one. Many whites are put off from even trying to initiate a relationship if they feel or know that their parents (or grandparents) would disapprove of their black/brown GF or BF. And if you do choose to pursue this relationship, both of you have to deal with either lying about it and sneaking around or with confronting their parents about their bigotry.
--Conversely, some of our own parents are also against bringing home a white love interest because of their own bigotry. Or, for some of my friends, interracial
dating with another person of color (ex: Black & Native American couple or a Asian & Latino Couple) was also controversial.

They simply aren't romantically attracted to us.
--This theory arises again out of the lack of POC in small, suburban towns. Because they do not see many of us, they simply do not view us as a viable alternative (or option) to date. Instead, what tends to happen is that white guys and gals tend to express their desires to fulfill their own sexual fantasies with us. As if we are a commodity! No, really! If I had a dime for the number of times I have been told or have overheard "I always wanted to hook up with a Latina" or "I always wanted to screw a black guy," I would be rich by now. But again, we are disposable to these certain individuals and could never really be anything more than a one-night stand.

Some other issue at play (hair, looks, weight, interests, not being a "party girl")
--When in doubt, this theory is always effective. I like to believe that it is not always about race and skin color when it comes to dating here on campus.
--Maybe it is just because many of us do not fit in to the general college co-ed culture that reigns supreme.
--Maybe it is because us women of color here do not look like Jessica Alba and Halle Berry (as if they are the ideal standard of colored beauty).
--Could just be differences in interests or even maturity level. Maybe men at this juncture in life as too immature to really be looking for a serious relationship. Maybe my friends and I need to chill out instead and not be searching for our future husbands!

What are your thoughts? Did I leave any theories out? Leave a comment.

-Jade, The Intern