I’m sure everyone remembers when they were applying to college and how nerve wracking the process was between all the research, SATs, campus tours and open houses. And of course, we can’t leave out the hundreds of pieces of mail that filled our mailboxes and inboxes every day. We all remember the countless brochures from colleges telling us why their program was better than everyone else’s, how their internship programs are endless, and their campus is beautiful and strategically located in great areas for college students and of course, how diverse their campus is. You look through all the brochures and you see all the pictures of campus with all the different races and ethnicities under the sun being represented. Then there was my personal favorite, the “Diversity Brochure,” which literally says look how diverse we are. Now maybe I got those specific brochures because I checked off the African-American and Hispanic boxes and I get that, but there are some profound issues with that. First off, if you have a specific brochure trying to tell me how diverse your campus is then I’m just going to assume that everyone in that brochure accounts for all the minorities on your campus. Where the real trouble comes is when colleges that are not at all diverse are successful in tricking students, especially students of color into believing they are indeed diverse.
This intentional deceit on the part of colleges is really unfair to students and can really damage their college experience, and that goes for white as well as non-white students. Let me start with how this is damaging to some white students, specifically the ones that are looking for diversity. Whether these students come from predominantly white towns and are looking for something new or they come from diverse hometowns, they are seeking out diversity for some reason, and they are right to. Being able to live and work with people from diverse cultures and religions will only benefit students in our increasingly globalized society. When students enter the work force they will no doubt interact with people that come from many diverse backgrounds, especially if they are in the fields of business, engineering or the sciences. Knowing that, students actively seek out environments that foster that same diverse community. For students like that they look heavily into diversity when it comes to making college decisions and can be robbed of vital experiences when they are tricked into coming to campuses that are less diverse than advertised. They are robbed of a skill that will no doubt benefit them throughout their life and career. That’s essentially equivalent to telling a student that wants to be an accountant how great your accounting program is and then when they get to your university you tell them well we don’t actually have an accounting major, but our general business program is great! Now of course colleges would never do that because it would be unethical, but why don’t the same morals apply to advertising about diversity?
As damaging as this lie can be to the experience of white students, it can be exponentially worse for students of color. As previously stated, being able to work with classmates from different cultures is an invaluable experience and one that should not be taken for granted but there is also something to be said for having classmates that you can easily identify with, especially for black students. When you are walking around campus there’s a certain level of comfort being able to look around and seeing students that look like you and dress like you and a descent amount of discomfort when you see that is not true at all. This is especially true in moments of crisis, much like the issues that have arisen after the incidents in Ferguson and Staten Island and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter campaign. In moments like this, students of color need to know that they are not alone on their campus and that there are people out there that feel the way they do. That is not to say that white students can’t support the movement, but no white student can understand the emotions evoked when the Ferguson decision was made. Being a student of color at a predominantly white institution it was very difficult for me feel safe in my beliefs and to know there was a safe place for me to openly express my emotions. Now not much can be done about students of color that knowingly choose to attend a PWI, but it is not fair to the students that are tricked into a sense of false security. And it is inevitable that at PWI’s black students will then naturally gravitate to the few other black students on campus and then are constantly questioned with the typical, “why do all the black kids hang out with each other.” I’ll tell you why, because they need their own sense of security and belonging.
Listen, I understand that not all college campuses can be diverse; that’s simply not a realistic goal and that’s fine. I am not saying that all colleges need to diversify themselves (though it wouldn’t be a bad idea) I am just saying that colleges need to be honest about it. They need to be upfront and let people know what really makes up their student body. They need to focus on what their college actually does do well, rather than try to trick people into believing things that just aren’t true. I also understand that diversity means more than just race, and colleges are misleading about that too, but that’s for another blog post. To all colleges and universities, own who you are and please STOP LYING TO STUDENTS.