McDonald ’14: Silent racial discourse

Opinions Columnist
Monday, January 30, 2012

In 2010, Newsweek rated Brown the second most diverse university in America, losing only to University of Pennsylvania. According to the magazine, “Forty-five percent of Brown’s student body is white, while the rest are African American, Latino or Asian.” The magazine further noted, “The most diverse college campuses are also the most gay-friendly.” We Brunonians may be able to pride ourselves on a community with a majority of minority students, but numbers and academia aside, do we really embrace the diversity of our campus? Are we creating environments where we can converse with others from different backgrounds?

Despite the reported number of minority students, as a student of color I often find myself feeling a bit isolated from other non-white students, particularly from African American students. Outside of the Third World Center-sponsored events, I struggle to find classmates and peers who share my racial identity. In the academic arena, I often find myself the sole black student — and almost always the only black female student — in classes taken outside of the Africana Studies Department. And even in the aforementioned department, diversity is not guaranteed.

Out of the eight Ivy League institutions, Brown University historically has had the lowest admission rate for black students. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education compares the enrollment trends of the Ivies from 1992 to 2007. Over this 16-year time frame, Brown’s enrollment trend remained mostly even while every other Ivy League institution’s numbers trended upwards.  According to the Journal, admitted black students simply aren’t enrolling. I do think that the black community and other minority groups deserve more acknowledgement.

At the fall Queer Alliance events in 2011, Race and Desirability in the Queer Community and Under the Pan-Queer Umbrella, black students and other students of color met with white students to discuss how race, sexuality, gender and class intersect and influenced the way that they interacted with their peers. Though the workshops strove to confront issues that shape and at times hinder the development of the queer community at Brown, many of the discussions revealed insecurities some students felt in the context of the Brown community as a whole. A general sentiment expressed by students of color highlighted a silencing of the needs of minority groups. African American, Latino, Asian and mixed raced students explained that race, along with class, gender and sexuality all play large roles in their experience as minority students, but they said they don’t always feel that these perspectives are validated or even welcomed in environments not explicitly designed by and for students of color.

As students privileged enough to receive Brown’s liberal education, we should remember not to limit our learning simply to textbooks. We initiate these conversations, but the discussions are far from complete. Student groups must continue to create platforms where students of color can meet with others to be included and to discuss the needs of their respective communities. These student groups can work in conjunction with organizations like the TWC and even specific ethnic-based groups to make sure that students from all backgrounds understand that their participation is necessary and important. Various student groups can also offer more resources and options for financial assistance so that more students can afford to attend sponsored events. Furthermore, students of color must take the initiative to make their voices heard in groups that do not cater inherently to specific ethnicities. By talking to my peers who are white and non-white, I have discovered that I am not the only person who notices that some groups and activities are not as diverse as they could and perhaps should be.

George Mead, an American philosopher and sociologist, once professed, “Society is unity in diversity.” My favorite thing about Brown is that on a sunny day on the Main Green, I can encounter over 12 different kinds of people in three seconds. At events like the Third World Transition Program, I am constantly amazed by the representation of different backgrounds present at our University and the solidarity that groups so diverse can stimulate. Minority groups cannot solely partake in this brand of unity, especially when we could all learn more by asking even more questions, by examining privilege and by inviting different peoples to join the conversation. There are no fundamentally segregated spaces at the University, and there should not be any silenced voices. In this manner, may Brown students continue to foster sincere racial discourse.

Helen McDonald ’14 is a Literary Arts and Brazilian Studies concentrator and can be reached at