Student Forum on Intergroup Relations on Campus
Diversity Digest asked a series of students to comment on the state of intergroup relations on their campuses. Here are a few of their responses.
It doesn't appear to me that there is overt intergroup tension at the University at Buffalo (UB). Rather, I think that the diversity of the campus forces many people of different backgrounds to interact because they either fear being stigmatized or they simply want to learn from others with experiences different from their own. The general sentiment on campus is that the diversity and multiculturalism on campus is one of our strengths. It does seem that it is only natural for members of any cultural group to cluster with one another.
Unlike my very homogeneous and affluent high school, however, UB has provided me with experiences that have re-shaped my own thoughts and seriously affected my life. I do feel that people all over campus need to make more concerted efforts to increase intergroup dialogue on campus. This needs to happen from the top to the bottom and include faculty, administration, and students. While almost everyone is quick to recognize that diversity is pervasive, many remain belligerent when it comes to taking action on issues of diversity when conflict arises.
A wide variety of things differentiate people on any campus: age, race, gender, class, and even hobbies. And, as the saying goes, "Birds of a feather flock together." This does seem true at the University of Virginia (UVA) as I'm sure it is all across the country. I've personally come to realize at UVA, however, that individuals within groups of any dominant ethnicity or race are not as alike as one might think. And, individuals from different groups are not as different as one might think. In fact, it seems to me that class background differentiates people at UVA even more than racial or ethnic background does. As a somewhat typical, middle or upper-class student at UVA, the issue of class is the one that I personally would like to explore more for myself. To do this, I'm interested in pursuing opportunities to live and work in some service capacity in a poor, urban neighborhood.
My experiences at Brown have taught me to read any questions about the state of intergroup relations with a great deal of skepticism. There is a way in which any kind of minority cultural "grouping" is marked negatively as necessarily "factional" or "separatist," rather than as unified in a positive way. Associations among white, protestant, middle-class men are seldom recognized as groups in the same way that women's associations, ethnic/ racial minority associations, or religious associations are. It seems to me that whenever a "group" of minority students comes together for whatever reason at Brown, people question it. These "groups" are suspect and subject to intense scrutiny. On the other hand, few seem to care about the practices of dominant "groups" on campus. Why is it that the more "selective" or "exclusive" or "prestigious" a campus group, the more homogeneous it also seems to be?
My experiences both in high school and at Brown have contributed to my skepticism and understanding of identity. I attended a private high school in Miami where most of the students came from upper-middle class backgrounds. The majority of students in my high school were Hispanic and almost as many were white. There were only a handful of Asian students and barely a handful of African American students. I now recognize how I willingly "passed" as Hispanic in high school. My high school years did include, however, a few crippling racist encounters.
At Brown, there are far more South Asian students and far too few Hispanic students--"passing" would be an impossibility. At Brown, I and other students recognize ourselves as South Asian. But, when I first arrived at Brown, I stayed away from the South Asian and Third World organizations, believing--(as so many middle-class students do)--that I would always just seek out friends and groups who shared my interests. Most of my close friends, especially in my first two years, have been white. With each one of my white female friends, however, I have had conversations in which something like "I've never been friends with...like you" came up. With my white male friends, these same kinds of conversations were also frequently sprinkled with undertones of sexist or exoticist fantasy. Increasingly, I've been finding that I share similar experiences with many students of color. Because of the humiliation, regret, and moments of realization we've shared, I've begun to forge more relationships with South Asian and other Third World students whom I initially avoided. Our relationships are reinforced not because of a shared "identity" but as a result of our shared commitment to an anti-racist and anti-imperialist world view.
back to top