To be honest, the lack of diversity and inclusion is a problem on the campus of William Jewell College. We cannot become complacent with diversity on campus when there is still more to be done.
To begin, let me clarify that I love Jewell. This college provides an excellent education and I honestly believe that the faculty and administration are making efforts to increase diversity on campus.
With the recent efforts to promote inclusion on campus, such as introducing CTI 150 and new diversity and inclusion scholarships, it seems like Jewell is recognizing that changes are necessary to create diversity. However, we cannot let these recent efforts become a security blanket. It would be easy to let these new programs create a sense of security that we have “fixed” our diversity problems.
For those who question if there even is a diversity problem, I want to share some startling statistics. Seventy-eight percent of Jewell students are white, four percent are black or African American, almost four percent are Hispanic/Latino, and less than one percent are Asian.
These statistics are troubling because they show that there is actually very little diversity among students at Jewell. Perhaps even more troubling is the lack of diversity among faculty. Ninety-five percent of Jewell’s faculty are white, one percent are Hispanic/Latino, one percent are Asian, and one percent are black or African American.
The fact that 95 percent of Jewell’s faculty are a homogenous race demonstrates a complete lack of ethnic diversity among faculty.
Part of the problem with recent diversity and inclusion initiatives is that these changes cannot fix this problem. New classes cannot change the fact that there are few students and faculty of diverse backgrounds.
The introduction of diversity and inclusion scholarships has the potential to create a more diverse student population. However, the introduction of these scholarships cannot be merely a token to show that Jewell is trying.
Scholarships can help increase diversity, but there must be accountability in classrooms to ensure that the values of diversity and inclusion are upheld, as well.
If there are increased efforts to make sure that diversity and inclusion are valued within the classroom, then there is an atmosphere where students of diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable.
We cannot expect our campus to become more diverse if we do not practice the values of diversity and inclusion. We can say that we have classes and scholarships to help encourage diversity, but until the atmosphere in classrooms changes, there is not, practically speaking, diversity or inclusion on campus.
What do I mean by changing classroom atmospheres? This means that professors should not call on students to speak for an entire race. I have witnessed, as many students have, that professors will speak about problems faced by people of color and immediately call on a student of color to speak on the issue. This not only puts that student in an uncomfortable position but assumes a relation between people based solely on skin color.
This practice also produces tokenization, creating a classroom where a student of a diverse background becomes the token minority, asked to speak on minority issues and nothing else.
Another negative classroom atmosphere is one fostering cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
A dangerous problem with cultural appropriation is that often people do not recognize they are doing it or do not view it as a harmful practice. However, it is harmful because it trivializes other cultures and comes from a place of ignorance. Appropriating another’s culture shows disrespect for others and is often done for comedic effect.
Cultural appropriation occurs in classrooms when professors or students dress or act like people from certain cultures without understanding the culture or using the culture in an inappropriate fashion. For those who question if this occurs in classrooms at Jewell, it does.
Appropriation often occurs in a homogeneous classroom because there is less sensitivity for other cultures. When people in a classroom are predominantly of the same culture, there is a greater chance that other cultures will be viewed less important.
Jewell has made positive strides to promote diversity and inclusion and these efforts are a step in the right direction. However, these efforts cannot and should not create a false sense of security that our diversity problems are solved.
Because there are problems of low ethnic diversity among students and faculty, we need an assessment of whether these new programs are actually changing demographics.
There are changes professors and students can make inside the classroom to produce an atmosphere that is welcoming to all students. These changes will be hard to make, and I do not know the solution to all of these problems. To fix these problems, though, they must first be acknowledged and discussed. To find a solution, we need to create a campus where this is a problem each person recognizes and strives to fix.