This piece was written by a current student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Coming from a diverse place, much of what HWS has introduced to me is outside of the bubble that I called home. It never occurred to me of my position as a person of color on campus until my first few months at the colleges. When I first came to Hobart and William Smith, I wasn’t familiar with the term “PWI,” or also known as a predominantly white institution. Like the word itself, it describes colleges and university that have a majority white population in attendance. And at HWS, the demographics boil down to almost ¾ of the colleges having white-identified students. With the small population of students of color, you could imagine the distinguishability between the different ethnicities. I remember when the first time this happened to me, where a fellow white student approached me and acknowledged one of my Facebook posts. Then other similar instances started coming up, where even faculty would confuse me for another student. I remember going to the dining hall and swiping my OneCard and the staff member calling me by another name, that wasn’t mine. Being here for an extensive amount of time, this basically happens every time I decide to go to the dining hall. I’m not sure why people (students and faculty), can’t distinguish Asians from one another. Maybe it’s because they’re not accustomed to being surrounded by Asians, or they just can’t tell us apart from one another. Sadly, being a person of color at PWI means getting used to these everyday instances of racism and at some point, expecting it to happen at least a couple times a week.
Similarly, in the academic setting, the same stands true. Due to the lack of diversity, students of color are accustomed to being the only one of their race and ethnicity in a classroom full of white students. In many cases, students of color are the ones to mention the differences between the experiences of white students. Going back to previous semesters, I remember a discussion in my English class where our focus was the topic of race at HWS. I distinctly recall my professor asking questions about the different experiences that students of color have at a PWI like HWS. In response, a white student replied to the professor’s question with “Wait, students of color experience the colleges differently?” It was here where I realized the lack of knowledge that white students have when understanding the issues of race on a college campus. With this, I simply talked about my experience to the whole class ranging from my run-in with a Geneva community member who proudly displayed white supremacist paraphernalia to attending a retreat centered solely on the racial climate of the society we live in. But it seemed as though many of the white students were confused about all of these events happening on campus. Within this specific class, it became symbolic that many white students are unaware of the privileges they have while attending a predominantly white institution. Without the presence of students of color, it makes me question whether the discussions of race and diversity would be considered. Because in short, the diversity isn’t present and it seems that students of color are in the constant state of trying to figure out how to approach the concepts of race and diversity when those around them are ignorant to the effects of the institution.