How many years must a people exist before they are allowed to be free?" When thinking of the problems faced by black and Latino inner city students attending Penn and other Ivies, this is the statement that immediately comes to mind. Much has changed since Bob Dylan's groundbreaking words, but sadly, too much has stayed the same. While everyone knows (or should know) that people of color -- and specifically Latinos and African Americans -- are confronted with ignorance and hostility in many situations and environments, it may be surprising to some that the crown jewels of American education, the Ivy League, is home to sweeping race and class discrimination. After speaking with a former schoolmate of mine about his experience as a black male at Columbia University, I was surprised to learn how little is done to make African Americans feel at home in the Ivies and how substandard treatment from white peers is often the standard treatment received. "Sometimes it can seem like you're just there for the brochure," said a friend of mine in a disturbingly casual manner. "You feel alienated. No one talks to you. Most white people are concerned about hate crimes and racial slurs... just because no one's calling you a nigger doesn't mean there's not racism." I know what you are thinking -- the title of an Sinclair Lewis novel comes to mind -- "It could never happen here." "On campus I'm not treated as a Penn student, I'm treated like a black Penn student," said a College freshman I'll refer to as 'A.' "I don't really feel accepted as part of the [Penn] community... When I go to a frat party no one dances with me, it's like 'what's she doing here?' "I've experienced discrimination [here], it just isn't in your face," 'A' went on to say. "People will let the elevator go by... They'll look at you funny... It's not overt. "It's little things but it's definitely there... racism has changed its face." Surprised that racism could exist in such a respected temple of knowledge? Fail to see any burning crosses or men with funny mustaches? Welcome to bigotry in the 21st century. The Ivy League, which has always been innovative in all social endeavors, has chosen a progressive form of racism to impose on its students of color. A cutting edge racist technique based on a single query: "Why use hateful epitaphs when you can just give the silent treatment to people who look different?" Simply put: Alienation is as good as humiliation. Before continuing, I would like to make it clear that the people making these comments are not radical militants or banner waving afro-centric revolutionaries. They are thoughtful, moral and hard working, much like the way many white students view themselves. And yet they offer strong feelings of isolation in the very environment that claims to nurture individuals of that very description. "There are feelings of equality in the Penn minority community," a female College freshman stated. "I feel comfortable in the minority community." What compounds the horror of these students' experiences is that they all worked diligently to get into these schools, often times simultaneously combating inadequate counseling and poor class selection in underfunded public schools. Imagine that after taking on several loans and trekking hundreds of miles away to a place acknowledged as different, they arrive only to be ostracized from the group at large and ultimately reminded that they are not wanted. What I find most disturbing about all of this is that the majority of students are either unaware or unbothered by the vast social rift to which so many students of color fall victim. In fact, when speaking with peers about this story many dissuaded me from trying to tell it. The most common response I received was: "You're not black, why do you care?" But upon hearing this my thoughts drift back to a Bob Dylan lyric -- "How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?" Sorry Bob, it looks like the answer is still blowing in the wind.
Alphonzo Stein is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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