Since the election of President Barack Obama, I have given more consideration to the idea that I am living in a post-racial generation. As I sat watching the polling results on CNN, basking in happiness and shedding tears of joy in my friend’s dorm room, I began to think, “Wow! I am so proud. I am living the days when the impossible has become possible.” Simply put, I thought Nov. 4, 2008 would forever change the invisibility of the black race.
If this is perhaps the case for some parts of the country, I hesitate to believe that this is the case here at the University. While the University tries to promote diversity, it has fallen short in providing a sensitive, inclusive and healthy environment for black students. The racial climate at the University is tense and strained due to the differing backgrounds that have socialized students. Admittedly, I — along with some other black students — feel dismissed by the University and our peers in the classroom.
Yes, the University has made strides towards campus inclusion by admitting students who were historically prohibited from attending. But realistically, this university still has a long way to go.
I struggle with what it means to be black on this campus. Race relations at this university have such a dark past that sometimes the bigotry my friends and I experience comes as no surprise. The University’s Black Action Movement in the 1970s and 1980s was a political response to the practices of marginalization at this university. Examples of such discriminatory practices included a black cultural house “mistakenly” falling victim to arson and others calling black students “negros” when the black students didn’t self-identify as such.
Once, I heard a student say that “diversity is better when it is embraced and not forced.” Her rationale suggests that often diversity breeds conflicts like racism and poverty, which often arise as a result of such enforcement. I have encountered administration officials from various departments that discouraged me from applying to competitive programs and schools, because they assume my grades aren’t good enough.
Appallingly, I have learned through my conversations with administration officials that some of them are astounded by the insensitivity that some black students, if not all, must endure by the administration, faculty and students. But then again, sometimes I do understand why some officials are left unaware.
There is a lot of pressure when speaking in a classroom where students think that Africans — who represent part of black American heritage — wouldn’t know how to operate a structured government without the United States showing them how to be “civilized.” Listening to students say that Africans don’t know how to make or properly use roads or water can make some black students feel that complaining to the administration would be fruitless.
I, along with my black peers, am experiencing similar strife. For the black students that have come before me and will come after, the University needs to acknowledge that racial tension exists on campus. My hand sometimes goes unacknowledged in student organization meetings and in the classroom. A real conversation needs to be had about why some professors are more willing to help students whose faces look like my own. The University needs to address the problems that afflict the black community on campus and why some students are told that they only made it to the University through affirmative action alone.
I am often left to question the motive behind the University actively seeking out black students to enroll in this academic institution in the first place. Honestly, I am skeptical when I hear the concept of “diversity” constantly preached by the University. I don’t understand the mantra that “Diversity Matters” at the University, when nationally and at the University, it is understood that this university isn’t equal.
The University must first fix the plight of the black student before increasing the enrollment of black students. When prospective students are shown a welcoming environment, I believe that they will in turn welcome the idea of becoming a Wolverine.
Brittany Smith is an LSA sophomore.