I never noticed the impact of my whiteness until I came to Penn. This is a problem.
My experience attending the United States Naval Academy has given me a backdrop in front of which my current Penn experience unfolds. Memories from the military float through my mind as I stroll down Locust, chuckling at the stark contrast.
At the Academy, the uniforms are the superficial representation of internal standardization. Individuals walk though the gates on Induction Day and exit four years later as a product of the United States government. The buzzword “diversity” — as I now understand it — does not exist there.
The attendance requirement is American citizenship, so the overwhelming majority of the student population has a similar background and belief system. Even the wild cards quickly conform to the rules of the road. Obedience is a necessary ingredient for success.
Tired of taking orders without question and starved for intellectual stimulation, I arrive on Penn’s campus to find a cultural carnival displayed every day. I now scream from the rooftops and savor the echo of “Diversity!”
Plastered on every college brochure, this word carries the weight of a heavy history — human differences have sparked wars and holocausts. And yet, here at Penn between ten city blocks there exists a safe haven. Here, differences are celebrated and encouraged.
A whole new world opened up to me in which I could join hands with my peers and sing “Kumbaya.” Or so I thought.
With this newfound freedom to explore such diversity, I attended many spoken word events and open discussions. I engaged with international and exchange friends, prodding their perspectives to gain insight into their worldviews.
The more I listened, the more I noticed a trend: minority struggles within a white-dominated society. I heard stories of non-white girls getting rejected from white fraternity parties and how peers have grown up pressured to emulate white models. I learned of friends’ continuous struggles with appearance “because their nose doesn’t look like mine and their eyes will never be blue.”
At charged spoken word events, I would sit in the audience, watching waterworks flow down the presenter’s face, and think: “I am so glad to be white because I haven’t had to shed those tears.”
Here is the problem: Penn mimics society’s structure; therefore, society’s issues are mimicked as well.
From what I have learned, the white privilege on this campus propagates the cycle of racism. Unfortunately, by recognizing the status quo, we run the risk of giving more power to it. However, even though speaking out against injustice may reaffirm this dominance, it is still better than silence. And to those who are willing to listen, especially those previously unaware like I was, there is hope for change.
Maybe then, exclusive events like white frat parties would no longer be coveted and those rejected would no longer feel a sting. I am advocating for a social system in which there is no single standard for inclusivity. I admit that the solution to this problem is elusive, but ultimately, dialogue is key to eventually solving the issue.
Never before have I been so blatantly told by friends and peers — those same people who are victims of white dominance — that white is the standard of beauty and the image of power. This is depressing because the more it is said, the more it is believed. Before seeking out events that focus on this very issue, I never would have been so aware that the way I look holds such importance and dictates social opportunities.
Though not perfect, Penn should still be praised for the safe spaces it establishes in which these issues can be discussed. I hope that the dialogue will continue and compassion will spread, ultimately leading to a society in which there is no exclusive status quo. I want my friends to see in themselves the beauty that I see in them. Generally, Penn students are supportive, open-minded and interested in what their peers have to say. Unlike at the Naval Academy — where these issues were not talked about — I believe that at Penn change is an attainable goal. Through those willing to listen, maybe there’s a Kumbaya within reach.
Marjorie Ferrone is a College junior from Houston studying geology. Her email address is email@example.com.