An open letter on diversity to our respected faculty

This letter is written in regards to the recent change of requirements for the Freshman Preceptorial class, specifically the omission of diversity as a requirement for any syllabus.

Each of us has gone through the FP classes, either in their older format or the new one, and appreciates their goals. I believe these goals to be introducing new students to college level writing and analysis, encouraging the participation and input of new students and broadening the perspectives of all students who will be working on a diverse campus and world.

I believe that FP has accomplished all three of these goals well over the past few years. However, the new modification removing diversity as a requirement is troubling to me.

It has been understood that this was a trial year, and I’d like to let our assessment of this experiment be known, as this not only affects future students, but also the environment I hope to encourage on campus.

I feel that the removal of diversity as a requirement for the Freshman Preceptorial class is a bad decision. Its elimination has diminished and ostracized those of us who are not part of the mainstream culture of this country. Particularly, multicultural and international students feel negatively affected.

Many of us, whether classified as “diverse students” or not, feel that these changes not only negatively affect the FP experience, or Knox experience, but also negatively affects certain academic areas.

For many of us, FP has been the foot in the door to other departments. These are areas many of us would not have experienced if it were not for the small taste given to us in FP.

For others, especially incoming multicultural and international students, FP served as a safe haven to share our viewpoints with reassurance that our input was valuable.

Aside from these important aspects of a diversity requirement, there are two more important issues: symbolic annihilation and stereotype threat.

Symbolic annihilation is the unfortunate effect of not seeing oneself reflected in society at large. When young men and women do not hear of or see people who are closer in experience to them, they start to question if there indeed is a place for them on a college campus or in a classroom at all.

Stereotype threat is the conditioning of students to fall into traps. If it is shown to students that for whatever reason they are not welcome here, under the assumption they cannot perform as well as others, it compels them to believe that the stereotype is true, and they act accordingly.

These are real consequences of feeling alone on a college campus, and many of us don’t overcome these predicaments. In the latest study, it has been found that the highest dropout rate at Knox College this year is that of African American women.

Those of us who do choose to stay here are faced with alienating and saddening odds against us. We are consistently reminded in our classes how underrepresented we are unless we decide to take classes that focus on our diverse aspects. Unfortunately, the “tribalism” of venturing to “find ones’ own” drives us further apart as a community.

I also have a suggestion to make to the faculty.

Too often those of us who are classified as diverse face hurtful comments in and outside of classrooms. While there is little faculty can do outside of the classroom, we ask that there be some changes inside it.

It is a very common experience for a ‘diverse’ student to be asked point blank, “What is the Black perspective on this?” I ask that you not group us so carelessly. Each of us does not represent the entire group we are a part of.

I understand the good intentions and appreciate the attempt to let us be heard, but those kinds of questions in class make it all right for other students to marginalize us outside of class. For example, it is not uncommon for international students to be ridiculed by American classmates for having a “foreign education”, as though it were not on par with an American one.

I would like to stress that I have nothing but the deepest admiration, respect and care for you. During my years at Knox you become all of our professors, role models and mentors. We appreciate all that you do for us already, and are inspired by the intellectual community you build at Knox.

I hope you take our opinions seriously as you continue to look at this question.

Many thanks, and best regards.

Author’s note: This letter is the product not just of my personal experiences but the consensus from many students who have expressed their frustrations without knowing where to go, and faculty/staff feeling powerless to help. For students who feel the same way, I will be tabling in Seymour Gallery for signatures for a petition starting Monday, February 6 from 4:30 to 6 p.m., but not at all on Thursday.

As I am presenting my views, and the views of those who agree with me, I encourage all those who disagree or sit somewhere in between to let their voices be heard too.

Editor’s note: This piece has been modified from its original form with the permission of the author.

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.

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