Campus must reframe conceptions, realization of diversity

On Jan. 16, 2013, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed over 140 college presidents at the White House for an event designed to spur discussion and action by creating educational opportunities for students of low-income backgrounds. President Obama stated, “We want to restore the essential promise of opportunity and upward mobility that’s at the heart of America…To that end, young people, low-income students in particular, must have access to a college education.”

President Catharine Bond Hill attended the event, and President Obama gave a special nod to Vassar College for the Transitions program.

This White House education initiative works to offer all students an equal chance at getting into and successfully attending prestigious colleges or universities like Vassar. Obama’s call to these institutions is one that many colleges have already taken steps to address themselves, using “diversity” as a buzzword to advertise their college to prospective students.

Closer to home, though the Transitions program and other groups, both administrative and student-led, have helped improve the quality of life of many students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and varying racial and ethnic identities, we at The Miscellany News believe the presidential praise should not distract us from the numerous critical improvements the College must make to be a more welcoming institution.

While The Miscellany News acknowledges and embraces the need for institutions of higher education to admit a more socioeconomically diverse student body, it is important to remember that diversity should not be treated as the end goal to the admissions process.

While many institutions claim to want a “more diverse” student body, the final result of these attempts is often harmful to the students from the marginalized groups which colleges try to attract to “diversify” their campus. Indeed, such actions often result in tokenization and inequalities on college campuses.

When institutions recruit students of color, queer and non-gender conforming students, and students from low-income households, it can result in those students attending a school for the sake of the majority. That is, their presence is for the benefit of students of privilege who can thus receive an education alongside students of “diverse” backgrounds and identities. These students often feel pressured to speak about their experiences as though they are the spokespeople for everyone of their same social class or racial and gender identity.

Further, there are numerous long-term repercussions in regards to financial diversity that the College has either unknowingly or willfully failed to address. For instance, personal financial situations often require many students to work on campus over the summers in order to afford their contribution fee to the College, especially if they feel that they would not be able to find a job at home. This leaves these students potentially unable to seek out unpaid internships in their desired career paths, in effect harming their chances of successful admission into graduate schools or the workforce. Since it is often not financially feasible for low-income students to accept unpaid internships, the next best option is to remain on campus taking on often undesired jobs for minimal pay.

Additionally, providing students on financial aid with the ability to serve in positions of student government has been a problem at Vassar for some time. Currently the necessary hours required to work a campus job prove almost impossible to manage when also juggling the additional student government hours. As such, they can’t represent their interests adequately and are hindered from having a political voice on campus.

We at The Miscellany News would propose some changes to Vassar recruitment process. Many underrepresented areas at high schools in the United States do not receive the same amount of information from colleges, and therefore are immediately put at a disadvantage. While we understand that it is natural and in some instances helpful to rely on high schools that continually produce high-achieving students, it is critical to seek the majority of students from outside these schools

In the interest of both regional and socioeconomic diversity, Vassar must make every attempt to reach out to students whose high schools do not normally receive visits or information for the Admissions staff. Programs such as Questbridge are designed to do so and it is very important to continue to support and utilize them. When it comes to Native-American high schoolers, however, the College could make a greater effort to reach out to these students, who are often neglected during the recruitment process. Even by looking at the typical geographic origins of Vassar students, one can see that there is work to be done.

Though we commend institutions of higher education for offering opportunities to historically disadvantaged students, The Miscellany News encourages admissions officers, administration and students to reflect on how their conception of diversity and their attempts to achieve it might be flawed.

Diversity is not a show. It cannot be measured by how many students of color appear on a Vassar College brochure, nor can it be quantified by the percentage of students who are on financial aid. When university administrators speak of their constant search for certain kinds of students, diversity begins to seem like a quota rather than a tangible and visible concept. While there are certainly ways to reach out to students who might not normally receive information from elite colleges and universities, a truly diverse school can only be functional when its search for variety doesn’t feel forced or fake, and when it serves the interests of these students previously ignored or excluded from these colleges. Diversity should be the natural byproduct of opening doors for students and giving them the opportunities to succeed once admitted to institutions that have been traditionally limited to white, wealthy students.

 

—Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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