One of the most deceptive features of racism is that although it is highly prevalent in many circles, it takes on far more subtle forms than hate crimes and name calling. More often, racial discrimination manifests itself in different expectations and behaviors toward people of color. I often ask: Why are minority students dismissed as being self-segregationist when they get together, whereas Greeks, athletes and other students do the same thing without meeting the same criticism? Why are people so adamant about dismantling DuBois College House but not the Greek system? As a former varsity athlete, I feel that I can attest to the relative exclusivity and homogeneity of certain sports teams on this campus. And as the former Chair of the United Minorities Council, I have been witness to the criticism. Recently, two constituent groups of the UMC, Check One -- a group that addresses the concerns of multiracial, multiethnic students -- and Penn Philippine Association, sponsored a discussion on social segregation in higher education as a part of Unity Week, a week dedicated to promoting cultural interaction on campus. Although the student panel was not very representative of our student body -- it was predominantly black -- diversity of opinion was clearly not compromised. The convictions raised ranged from those preferring randomized housing to those in favor of limited interaction between races. One of the issues addressed was the need for community building, particularly within communities of color. Walter Palmer, the moderator, skillfully maintained a civil and productive discussion in what was at times a contentious atmosphere. One of the points he drove home was that the term "integration" in this country implies minorities moving into and often isolating themselves within predominantly white institutions and communities. Never is it the reverse. Audience members were asked to challenge their own beliefs and perceptions about race and racism, especially when issues were raised concerning housing segregation and the advancements that have been made since the days of the civil rights movement. I drew several points from the forum. First, it is necessary to support the need for students to come together on whatever level they feel comfortable. Cultural groups and Greek organizations are integral aspects of student life, particularly for the social opportunities and support that they provide. We should not undermine this role by describing them as self-segregratory. Second, the onus of providing a truly diverse living and learning experience lies primarily in the hands of the individual, not the administration or any cultural, religious or ethnic group. Third, community building and community sharing are not exclusive. That is, it is possible to strengthen your community -- be it racial, religious, ethnic or social -- and identity while sharing, growing and learning from the larger community, Penn. This University is more diverse that it has ever been. According to admission statistics, more than 35 percent of our undergraduate student body is identifiable as students of color. This can be attributed in part to progressive policies on the part of our administration, government initiatives, changes in national demographics and shrinking international borders. While we must realize the significant advances that have been made since the days when this University was all white and male, we must also recognize that not enough is being done to recruit and retain certain groups of color on this campus. Where are the Native Americans in our entering classes? Why has the proportion of Latinos not changed comparative to their numbers in this country? Where are our black males on graduation day? Why are certain Asian-American ethnicities well represented on campus but not others? This University has come a long way, but has much further to go. For me, the Unity Week discussion highlighted the fact that within us exists the potential for a living and learning experience that few can rival anywhere else in the world. Penn's student body is diverse -- we hail from all continents. Furthermore, our University supports groups, events, activities and initiatives that enhance and promote this diversity. Our administration is responsible for providing an optimal living and learning environment for each student and for supporting our personal and educational advancement. However, it is up to us to fully utilize the opportunities that are presented to us. After all, what good is a diverse student body where people do not interact across the social boundaries created by race and ethnicity? Let us not allow our preconceived notions to deter us from realizing all that Penn has to offer.Comments powered by Disqus
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