April 30, 2019

TAARIQ | Diversity Without Inclusion Is Not Enough

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I am one of the lucky ones, right? Being able to come to an Ivy League university despite coming from a low-income community and a single-parent first-generation household. I am one of the lucky ones. Being able to completely forget the reality of home in my little ivory tower. I am lucky to have an unlimited meal plan, even though it was forced and the food is poorly seasoned. I am lucky to learn from world-renowned faculty, even though they may have the audacity to state in lecture that “only one percent of the global population is actually in poverty.” I am lucky for all these opportunities, even though my “@cornell.edu” email address is regarded more than my merit. I am lucky.

Every year, the incoming class of Cornell freshman is becoming increasingly diverse. Every year, we see expertly illustrated statistics and graphs highlighting the incoming class demographics. The word “diversity” has become an academic buzzword favorite. Cornell’s website states that “students thrive at Cornell because of its unparalleled combination of quality and breadth; its open, collaborative and innovative culture; its founding commitment to diversity and inclusion.” Other Ivy League universities do the same. Columbia professes that it fosters “a community of scholars who embody this commitment to diversity and who encourage discussion and debate.” Yale asserts, “We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.” Of course, these university initiative is supported by action. More than half (54.9 percent) of Cornell’s class of 2023, for example, are students of color.

Yet, although instances of overt discrimination and racism are minimal, they are not unheard of. Many students of color are not feeling well acclimated in this environment. “As a minority at Cornell, there are times where you feel out of place. You’ll walk into your class and there are only three people that look like you or relate to you out of 200 students,” says Stephanie Quaye ’21. Although education serves as a tool to solve deeply rooted social problems like poverty, adding diversity alone will not do the job. There needs to be more steps taken to support students once they are on the campus.

From my perspective, students who are underrepresented minorities are over-mentored and underfunded. Increasing diversity does not account for the fact that these students struggle to afford access to the same resources and privileges as their peers based on their identity. The median net worth of white families is almost 10 times the net worth of black families in the U.S. Increasing diversity also doesn’t guarantee inclusion. Recently, JT Baker ’21 was groundlessly disqualified from the student-elected trustee election. After an uproar from the minority and athlete communities, it was revealed that had he not been disqualified, Baker would have won the position. Instead of fixing this mistake, Baker now has to serve alongside Jaewon Sim ’21 in this position. This is not justice — it is a compromise. This goes to show that even though the number of black and brown students are growing on campuses, they are not being included or represented in executive student positions.

When I first arrived at Cornell the summer before my freshman year, I was excited for the opportunities, the experiences and the challenges. But as a student of color, my struggle was not limited to maintaining grades and balancing extracurriculars. There was a struggle to adjust to a new culture at Cornell, to find my identity in the minority community and to worry about the condition of my family back home. Being a minority on campus for me means having to work three jobs to support myself and my family, staying active in numerous organizations to support my professional goals and maintaining Dean’s List grades. It means CUPD not believing I am a student here when being pulled over for a seatbelt violation. It means being painfully aware when I am the only black person in the room, and not having the energy to constantly correct microaggressions in class or in articles which ask low-income students to be thankful to the rich for our education.

We are in a space that historically was not created for us. Not being able to see your culture represented can be disengaging and isolating. Within our own community, there needs to be more solidarity as well. Even if a student may look like me, they may come from a completely different experience than me — but this should not be grounds for disunity. And for those who may not look ethnically similar, it is still important that we support and celebrate each other’s cultures. There have been a lot of positive changes on campuses across the U.S. and at Cornell for minorities, but there is still work to be done. Yes, these changes take time, but they also take action.

Cornell University was founded on the principle of “Any person … any study.” Now that we have shown that any person, regardless of their background, can have the opportunity to attend Cornell, let’s show our students what we can do for them while they are here. At the end of the day I know I am not “lucky” to be here. I deserve to be here.

Aminah Taariq is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. I Spy runs every other Wednesday this semester.