It has been a while since I’ve been inspired to post. It is not because of lack of stories on #whyracestillmatters but more about the emotional burden that overwhelms me every time I hear about how our lives don’t matter. We have been reminded of this time and time again, even by the highest court in our nation. Justice Scalia, who recently passed away, fell victim to the old myth in his ruling of Fisher v. The University of Texas that African Americans were less intelligent than whites. He stated:
“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a slower track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
First, may he rest in peace. Second there are so many problems with this statement. The issue of African Americans not doing well in higher education is often associated with the lack of support structures in place and lack of inclusiveness within predominantly white institutions (PWIs). It is not because they are less qualified or just there to fill a quota.
The upheaval across institutions of higher education in the US in 2015 was part of a national movement of students determined to accelerate social change. The stories I heard hit a soft spot for me given my own experiences from high school to graduate school where I was often told I was not good enough. In high school, my guidance counselor told me that while I was I the honor society and top percentile of my class I was not smart enough to attend Wellesley. She said “you are smart, but not that smart.” Those words have stuck with me over the last 12 years. They pushed me to apply and attend Wellesley.
I think back to stories I would hear from my mom about the protests waged during her time attending Brandeis University. A matter of fact, they experienced protests and sit-ins in 2015 with many of the same demands of the protests held 46 years ago. These recent protests have sparked high schools, colleges and universities to place a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion in their student body and faculty.
My alma mater, Wellesley College, has gone so far as appoint its first African-American College President. Dr. Paula Johnson, a Harvard Medical School professor will become the 14th president in July. Her mission will be to “strengthen and (deepen) the college diversity, while also ensuring that our residential experience is taking full advantage of that diversity, that our young women are really experiencing all the richness that that diversity brings on campus.” This will be a tough task. Wellesley has always touted their “diverse student body” as a selling point. While “diverse”, there are many barriers for students of color to succeed. My four years were spent defending our right to co-exist on the campus and the need to create safe spaces for students of color.
I am proud of my alma mater for demonstrating its commitment to have its leadership reflect the diversity of the population it serves, but I am optimistically cautious on the way forward. The relationship between the College and African-American alums has not been very strong. There have been efforts to increase our connections to the college, but often times our experiences have colored our desire to stay connected. I look forward to seeing how Wellesley lives up to its commitment to diversity through Dr. Johnson’s leadership.