Viewpoint #22

“I am a rising junior at HWS. Although I was raised in a predominantly white state, I attended schools where a majority to all of my friends and colleagues were people of color. I am passionate about social change and believe in the power of allyship. I understand that it is impossible to entirely destroy the barriers constructed by socialization and experiences; however, I do believe that others should make an effort not to turn a blind eye or pity, but to acknowledge their privilege that is given through institutional and social systems, listen and learn.”

From its very foundation, Hobart & William Smith Colleges has always been a school of categories. With its gender binaries and separate schools, it comes as no surprise that there would also be a separation in race.

My first experience of the underrepresentation and lack of diversity was during the pre-orientation program (POAP) here at Hobart & William Smith Colleges. The rising first-years were assigned a summer reading titled “Citizen: An American Lyric,” which spoke about microaggressions, instances of individual and institutional racism and the impacts of these prejudiced actions. Upon reading this book, I was eager to speak with someone about the relatability and power of diverse representation in experiences. It was a quick learning curve and deeper isolation as I, the only person of color in the group, was unable to relate to the confusion, slight frustration and indifference that the rest of the members of my POAP group felt when the topic of the book was brought up.

This barrier is one that I have continually found difficult to break or climb over. As I began the school year with little to no support or friends of color to whom I could lean on, it was not until I attended a cultural club meeting that I felt I could breathe. For a brief moment, I felt as though that barrier had disappeared.

I wish I could say I attended more cultural club meetings afterwards, but truthfully, even in those cultural clubs I didn’t feel represented to the truest extent which left me at a loss of where I belonged on this campus. Thankfully, second semester was my first moment of normality when I was able to form bonds with students of color with whom I could freely talk to about issues involving race. Since then, I have been able to find the small pockets that people of color have carved out for themselves. I have also been able to work with others to carve a new pocket for myself and others who were in a similar predicament of certain underrepresentation. I now find myself feeling more comfortable on campus due to the friendships that I have been able to create, and I do believe that it has gotten significantly better with the new first-years that have arrived. However, I believe it can still be improved by changing certain systems and social environments in order to foster openness and allyship to melt the barriers that originate from different backgrounds and experiences. This first step would create monumental change for this institution that was built on categories and create the beginning of a more wholesome future.

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