When I came to Williams, I was in for a total shock. Leaving a predominately African-American and Hispanic city to attend Williams was a step out of my comfort zone, but I always try to experience new things. Entry life last year meant, for me, an unfamiliar way of life. I played games I have never heard of, listened to various new types of music, attended a cappella concerts, amongst other events and enjoyed most of it. College equals experimentation. Or so I thought, before I first set foot on campus. I had been telling myself that in order to have the “full college experience,” I would need to burst outside of my bubble, step out of my comfort zone and dive into the cultural richness that Williams offers. I just assumed that everyone thought this way, as the College has been pushing its Diversity Initiative for years. I thought this meant that everyone who attended Williams would be open-minded and willing to leave their comfort zones to try new things. I have found just the opposite, however, especially, when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion.
Through my own experiences as well as conversations with others, I have found that minorities and international students have had to step out of their comfort zones more often than others in order to experience the events of the majority. But these same students struggle to get others to participate in their own cultures. It is easy to value the viewpoint of the majority without assessing the needs of the minority. There should be dialogue about our differences so that we can all learn from each other. Engaging in those difficult discussions about race and privilege and cultural differences allows us all to understand and learn from each other. There’s always something to be gained from trying something new.
As the Social Activities Coordinator of the Black Student Union (BSU), I find it disappointing when the BSU sponsors an event and only the “usual members” attend. Many Williams students may say this is because the BSU is a self-segregating group that is exclusive in its own right, but my answer would be to ask whether these students have ever attended a BSU meeting or function. There is this perception of exclusivity, but how much of that is simply perception and not reality? The BSU is branching out to different groups on campus and collaborating with other MinCo groups, starting with attending Shabbat at the JRC. BSU events are published on the school calendar, posted on WSO, sent out over the BSU listserv, advertised on Facebook, in addition being posted up on flyers and spread by word of mouth.
I find it disturbing that even with all of this advertisement, not only do students not show up to events, but sometimes when they do, they carry their stereotypes with them. A group of students came to a party last semester and a few BSU members overheard someone saying that they were afraid that they would “get shot at the black house.” I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, however there was also a comment made at a BSU stressbusters that all we had was Kool-Aid and watermelon. How can the BSU integrate when misconceptions about the group are compounded by ignorance? How can the BSU reach out to the community if the community is not open-minded enough to come to an event? While I do acknowledge that the BSU can do more to welcome people, there has to be some give on the other end. I would be more willing to really put myself out there if I felt that it would do some good.
While some people may differ in the belief that racial tensions are present at Williams, they have to agree that this campus is not as fully integrated as it could be. People naturally segregate into different groups based on their interests and beliefs. There is a problem, however, when the members of these groups have the privilege to remain in their cliques, while prejudging other groups based on stereotypes of singular past experiences â€“ all the while never venturing to see what they really have to offer.
You may be thinking that you do hang out with a diverse group of friends, so how would my previous statement apply to you? Well, can you give an example of when you have stepped outside of your comfort zone and have explored an issue that isn’t directly related to your well-being? Have you ever attended a meeting with a group that has no connection to your identity? Have you ever taken the initiative to engage in an open dialogue with someone from a different background? While I do not believe that students should be concerned with every issue on campus, I do believe that students should take the time to experience something new before they write it off.
There is no point in having diversity if there is no inclusion. Before you assume that you’re being excluded, please make the effort to include yourself.
Nordia Savage ’10 is from Hartford, Conn.