Filtering by Category: race
Bruni wrote an article in the Times the other day about the true problem with college diversity. He writes that diversity is not just about creating racially and socioeconomically diverse student bodies, but about how to integrate students after matriculation. The issue, as he sees it, is that students self segregate naturally.
It would be great if colleges provided opportunities for greater communication and integration, as he suggests. But in my experience, self-segregation happens on a level outside of the university's control. Friendships are formed around fun and play; some students play with a lot of money, and some must play with less. Students segregate on the basis of what they can afford: those who can fly on a jet to Europe during spring break will do so and solidify their friendships. Those who cannot will not, and will solidify their friendships in other ways. Those who shop at luxury stores between classes will do so together. Those who cannot, or who do not care about such things, will not.
Friend groups form on the basis of value more than race. Value can easily come from one's race and ethnic background, which is why it's so easy to join a cultural organization on campus and feel a sense of unity. But value can also come from class, and often times it does so more and more, the higher one's socioeconomic class. A very wealthy black or asian student may share more values with a similarly wealthy white student, rather than with a poor student of the same race.
During my college career, there were few extracurricular groups that fully sponsored fun for its members. My a cappella group was one that did provide financing for students with need to go on international tours (one reason why I donate specifically to the group every year). Another similar a cappella group at Harvard also fully sponsors all of its singers to go on an annual summer worldwide tour. These groups are funded privately, and have a rich history, which is part of the reason why its members, all brought together through a shared value, their love of music and performance, have the unique opportunity to socialize equally.
This is all to say that Bruni is right in pointing out an issue, a lack of diversity within the university, but wrong about the cause or solution. Programming, discussion groups, or student centers may help slightly, but diversity of interaction between 18 year olds on the same campus is ultimately a class issue - an issue that starts for many students and their families long before the university comes into the picture, and which oftentimes the university can do little to solve.
I was a 13-year-old girl from a mostly white and Asian suburb in NJ. I had never been acutely made aware of my Korean-American background. Race wasn't an issue in my life.
I was in large part naive; my surroundings allowed me to remain so. I had read books dealing with race, and I had an understanding of history and current affairs. But I had no firsthand experience with discrimination, and race was not something I thought about often.
When I came to Andover, there were no issues of race as far as I could tell. Kids were nice, well behaved. In that kind of environment, it's easy to forget about a problem that isn't yours.
Every Wednesday afternoon, Andover students gathered in the chapel for All School Meeting, or ASM. Usually, ASM is a performance, a program, or a guest speaker.
One Wednesday, a speaker walked on stage, and I'll never forget how he opened his speech:
"Everyone raise your hands," he ordered. All 1,100 students and faculty raised their hands.
"Now, keep your hand up if you've ever thought about the color of your skin in your life." Most students kept their hands up. A few very honest ones pulled them down.
"Now keep your hand up if you have thought about the color of your skin in the past year." Many students and faculty lowered their hands. I, too, lowered my hand. I hadn't thought of my race since I could remember, really.
"Keep your hand up if you have thought about the color of your skin this past month." Even more hands dropped.
"Keep your hand up if you have thought about the color of your skin this week." Few hands remained. They were distinctly the hands of minority students at Andover.
"Now keep your hands up if you've thought about the color of your skin at least once today."
Those hands stayed up.
I was shocked. Maybe it was because some of those students were my friends and I never thought of us as remarkably different. Maybe it was because I didn't think there were race issues at Andover, which seemed like the safest haven in the world. Or maybe it was the truth that shocked me: that every single day, these students thought about the color of their skin, whereas I didn't have to. How different our lives were, and how much energy that must consume.
What stayed with me that day was a sharper awareness of the world and a reminder of the non-sibi (not for oneself) philosophy that Andover tries to impart on its students. Without that lecture, who knows how much longer I would have gone through my young adulthood only thinking about racial awareness as an abstract idea through my own subjective lens, without thinking about how racial issues impacted the psychology of others? Maybe only a couple years. Maybe my entire life.
That Wednesday's ASM stands out to me as an example of what a great school can do for its kids. And one reason why parents might choose to send their students to one school over another. I was fortunate to attend Andover, with its resources, great teachers, college prep, and financial aid endowment. But Andover was truly great because it went one step beyond facilities and opportunities. It also sought to make its students better, more understanding, more enriched and engaged. Those goals were written into its motto. And they were achieved through the school's unique structure, its funding of special events and programming, and its emphasis on living a moral life.
To parents looking at schools, I suggest asking the school what it stands for. What is its motto, or its vision for its students, beyond academics? And what does the school do to back that up?
Even though I graduated from Andover 10 years ago, I remember that ASM vividly to this day. I can still remember the jolt of understanding I had, the feeling of illumination and also discomfort at dealing with a new reality. Those feelings are the germs of learning and growth - in school and in life.