By Jamilla Jamison
Over the past few weeks student-led protests have ignited college campuses across the nation. Social media sites have exploded with students showing their solidarity through hashtags such as #BlackOnCampus and #ConcernedStudent1950 – the latter referencing the year that African American students were first admitted to the University of Missouri. Recent disturbing events on college campuses such as the Mizzou, Ithaca College, Yale University and Claremont McKenna College show that though college communities have come a long way in terms of increasing the diversity of their students, faculty and staffs, we still have quite a way to go in the higher education profession. I find it easy to revel in the success of enrolling a diverse class of students, but am heartbroken a few months later when those same students confide that they feel marginalized on campus by other students.
College admission officers are constantly striving to increase the diversity of the student body on their campuses along a number of lines: race, ethnicity, physical ability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, geography, etc. But it’s important to remember that our efforts cannot end with only bringing those students to our communities. It is our responsibility to also ensure that those students feel respected and included as valuable members of our communities.
I have to remind myself constantly that increasing diversity on campus is NOT just about the “numbers,” but providing students the opportunity to have discussions that challenge their beliefs, ideals, values and perspectives in the classrooms as well as in the dorms. Students can’t have those discussions if a large percentage of the population feels devalued, dehumanized and disrespected. And if our students cannot begin to have those conversations on a college campus, it then seems impossible to have difficult conversations in the working world where they might feel their careers and livelihood would be placed on the line for voicing their opinions.
We must encourage our administrations to step up and step in the moment that a concern about harassment, discrimination or misconduct of any sort is brought forward. We must assist in the effort to provide safe spaces for marginalized communities on campus. It is our responsibility to partner with student affairs offices to facilitate conversations around inclusion on college campuses, not just when our students protest and provide a list of demands, but consistently throughout the year. I think that only then will we truly be providing the best educational experience possible for our students and a community that shows respect and inclusion of all members is paramount.