by Catherine Arjet
Q: This election year US risks faces many racial divides. What do you think about diversity on Millsaps’s campus? What can the majority of white people do to include the minorities in their lives on campus?
A: Wow, good question! Before I get into this I want to say that as a white person, I can’t speak to the experience of minority students here or their thoughts on our diversity. However, I will answer it to the best of my ability.
To your first question, honestly, I think Millsaps’s diversity is awful. Maybe it’s just because I went to an incredibly diverse high school (we were 40 percent international students) and I was expecting something like at Millsaps. The fact that, according to Millsaps college board profile, our African American population is less than one third of the Mississippi state average speaks to our problem with attracting and keeping African American students. I don’t know if this is a problem with admission not adequately recruiting in heavily minority schools, the public school systems failing minority students, an unfriendly campus environment, or a combination of all three. Whatever it is we need to fix it, because having a 74 percent white school in a state with as much diversity as Mississippi is unacceptable.
However, I believe we can help to change that, at least somewhat. We can help make the campus friendlier to minority students by speaking up when we see racism in all forms. Maybe it’s just a comment in class or something a friend says that seems harmless, but things like this contribute to racism on campus. Every time a racist comment goes unchecked, it reaffirms the racist opinion. And I know what you’re thinking, “My friend who said that racist thing the other day isn’t actually racist. It was just a joke. They don’t know any better.” Here’s the thing though, jokes reinforce racist stereotypes, and for some people, maybe not your friend but maybe your friend’s racist friend who hears the joke, it makes them feel more comfortable about the racist opinions they secretly hold. And maybe they really don’t know any better, but luckily you’re here to teach them.
This all, I think, speaks to your second question about what white people can do to include more minorities in their lives. In addition to that, we tend to surround ourselves with people from similar backgrounds, and sometimes just talking to someone who isn’t similar to all your other friends (rather that be in race, personality, socio-economic background or whatever) can be the start of a great friendship. We can also listen when minority students tell us that something feels racist to them instead of dismissing it because we don’t think it’s racist. As white people, we really aren’t in a position to say whether something is racist or not and allowing racism to fester on our campus leads to the lack of diversity we see today.
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