This piece was written by a William Smith student.
Being a student of color at HWS feels like being a speck of dirt on a blank, white canvas: unwanted, undesirable, outcasted, the list goes on. It’s apparent that this institution, as well as many other collegiate environments, never intended to accommodate for students of color. The systematic disadvantages translate to the social dynamics surrounding diversity on campus. I don’t know why I had such high hopes for the outcome of my first year knowing this school is a PWI (predominantly white institution). Perhaps it was the core group of scholarship kids I was coming in with or the fact that we were going to have our first black president. It was like when Barack Obama won the Presidential Election. It was my sign of hope. Turned out he was actually a Ben Carson. But that was one of many calamities of my first year.
My first year was my most intense socially, but it taught me how to approach ignorance when directed toward me. There were many times when I’ve been on the other end of microaggressions, which in my opinion is just indirect racism, but it did shock me when it came from my own friend, my naivety getting the best of me. This particular friend is white and always made it a point to present herself as “woke.” But it was not until we made plans to go to her house that she showed her true colors. When my friends and I were walking back to our dorms, we were messing around and acting immaturely, mainly myself. My “woke” friend then turned to me and said “you better not act like that in front of my parents.” I told her that I obviously knew that. I usually act playfully and foolishly around my friends, but a lot of them know how strict my parents are, especially with how I present myself in public. Being Latina, I was raised with traditional Latinx values that emphasized respect for our elders along with the development of honorifics. So, it is likely that I would know how to behave around parents. My “friend” then continued and said, “But you don’t understand. My parents are different. We were raised differently, you wouldn’t understand.” I asked her what she meant by that. “You know, like we come from two different upbringings. You have to be extra careful when approaching my parents and behave properly. You’ll learn.” Oh, I did learn. Especially when she yelled and cursed at her mom over the phone when she didn’t get her the right Harry Styles tickets in the section she wanted. Or when she talked back to her parents and never saying thank you after they restocked her food pantry. How about when she called her mom a bitch and then hung up? If I ever did that to my parents, I would have been punched in the mouth and disowned from my family. But don’t worry, I’m learning now.
I learned that she was what I dreaded most about this school. She already had these preconceived notions about me, so I had to be strategic about how I went about confronting her. When I approached her to discuss my hurt of her assumptions toward me, I treated her how I thought was appropriate when confronting a racist white woman: I was extra cautious and calculated with how I brought forward my concerns. We sat across from each other on individual couches and I leaned back as far as I could, so there was no way she could have said I touched her or was in her face. When I began to talk, I made sure my voice was calm, collected yet stern to bring forth my seriousness but not to the point where she would feel “threatened.” I tried my best not to give her any ways of incriminating me and flipping the script. I told her, “I think what you said was incredibly insensitive and –” I couldn’t finish my sentence without her bursting into tears. I asked her why she was crying. She said she didn’t know so I said, “Well then I’ll finish.” I spoke to her as if I was calling customer service for a concern, I was professional yet direct. She then made excuses that had no correlation to her racist remarks and then said that lately she’s felt that I had been mean to her. As if that was an excuse to assume that Latinos don’t know how to behave properly. This was her attempt to antagonize me and depict me as the angry Latina who couldn’t control herself, but it failed. I chuckled and told her if we could get back to the topic at hand. Let’s just say that she ended up storming off yelling while I sat there calmly as she made a scene. We are no longer friends. If I’m being honest, I was scared of how much power she had. Even though she was in the wrong, she’s white, she had the upper hand, especially in confrontations with people of color. Black kids get shot in the streets because they are already depicted as criminals, god forbid a white woman cry wolf. It would be Emmett Till all over again.
That was one of my most intense moments as a student of color. Unfortunately, there has been several situations where people have displayed their ignorance, but I’ve just found the humor in some of them. When I went to Diwali night hosted by the South Asia Student Association, I was thanked by a white student for hosting such a nice event. I’m Latina. Once, when I was at FLX live, one of my classmates drunkenly came up to me and asked me if I was Native American. Another classmate of mine approached me in the library and calling me another Latina student’s name. I can probably write a whole dissertation long paper about experiences I have had similar to these, but these are just to name a few.
What is not humorous is what I woke up to today: the campus I reside in vandalized with hateful rhetoric that is aimed in excluding and harming myself as well as a huge demographic of people with the words “Build the Wall,” “Trump22” and MAGA spelled wrong (I guess that’s the representation of a Hobart education. Betsy Devos would be so proud). When taking pictures of these atrocities, a white student laughed at me and walked in front of my cameras. The fact that this is comical and easily brushed off by my white peers is a depiction of race relations on campus and it is exuded in the campus culture.
This institution has shown to do a poor job in collectively welcoming and including people of color in my experience and several of my white peers. In most of my classes, I’ve been one of the only people of color and given the unofficial position of token person of color when referenced as the spokesperson against racism. It’s even difficult to resonate with professors, especially those who teach classes on race, when they themselves do not experience the same struggles as those they are teaching. Even the resources provided for us are minimalistic. The Office of Diversity was locally known as a joke because of their lack of results and is, as of now, nonexistent. The Intercultural Affairs house is the main location on campus where students of color seek refuge, even though it is small and on the edge of campus. It also happens to be across Campus Security, which can easily be insinuated to be questionable reflecting on today’s political climate and battles of police brutality. There are attempts to make this institution more POC friendly, but it is rarely fully executed, or the effort is not where it should be. It is treated like a minor issue. It is tiring to always be concerned with race dynamics and it being implemented in every aspect of my life. It says a lot when my white peers are clueless to the sentiments of students of color because they do not experience the same issues as we do. It is a privilege to not have to worry racial politics, about your safety, or your existence being a spectacle when you are a white person. Lucky you.