By Hamdan Ahmed ’20
3 years ago, when I came to HWS, I was the only international student from Pakistan along with a couple other Pakistani-Americans. In 17 years of my life, I was never discriminated against because of my color and, since it was just my second time in the States, I was very new to racism. I did not even know what a “person of color (POC)” meant. Even after joining HWS, it took me a whole semester to realize that I am a POC, since I did not understand why we needed a specific term for people who are not white. For me, everyone was the same; my white friends were not superior to my black or brown friends and my black or brown friends were not superior to my white friends and I thought it is the same for every person at HWS. However, that was not the case. What I did not know was that very few people are openly racist. It was not until the elections of 2016, when I saw most of my white friends celebrating the victory of Donald Trump. I couldn’t believe that the “friends” who I thought were like my family and who I use to spend more than 10-12 hours a day supported a person who wanted me out of the country. For a whole year, I could not understand how they could discriminate between whites and the people of color but still be friends with members of POC. However, after the first year, I started to see the differences in treatment they provided to their white friends and the friends who were people of color and it changed my whole perspective towards HWS.
In last three years, Hobart and William Smith Colleges has done a great job in increasing diversity on campus, however, it failed to cater the needs of the diverse student body. For example, every single year, they admit several Muslim students even when they know Hobart and William Smith lacks all the basic things that a Muslim needs in his/her/their daily life to practice their religion. The surprising part is that the administration is still not willing to put any effort in changing the campus to cater the needs of the Muslim body. Every single resource we have on campus for Muslim students is like a piece of decoration that the admissions can show to prospective Muslim students to admit them. Once the students are admitted, now it is their responsibility to work their asses off to bring resources to campus. 2 years ago, I worked with the Dining Services to bring Halal food to HWS for the first time, however, due to lack of consideration and education, they started cooking the food along with pork and non-Halal food which defeated the whole purpose. Similarly, we have a Muslim center on campus where Muslims can pray, however, the center is in the basement of a house which is 15 minutes’ walk away from the campus and that makes it infeasible for Muslims to offer prayers. However, on the admissions website, Hobart and William Smith Colleges observe Muslim holidays such as Eid, has Halal food in the main dining hall and has a Muslim center where Muslims can go pray anytime. It is nothing more than a lie!
We do have Intercultural Affairs office who is always willing to help people of color, but that is just one office. The HWS campus is filled with departments and offices who would not even think twice before saying no to an initiative to help people of color on campus. HWS recently gave a house to Queer People of Color (QPOC) after years of demand and, I believe, now we just have three houses for the whole people of color community. Not only that, it is not uncommon for professors to discriminate between students. In last three years, I’ve heard a lot of stories about professors discriminating between students or being micro aggressive, and last semester, I experienced it myself.
Even though Hobart and William Smith failed at many levels to cater the needs of people of color on campus, it still made me who I am today. If HWS already provided the resources that we needed, I would not have had an opportunity to grow as a leader and work for my community. Every single struggle and every single resource the campus lacked gave me a new motivation to take an initiative and make the campus better for the students who are going to come after me.