BY MIKAELA BERRY | September 12, 2017
As a student of color, one of the realities of attending any liberal arts college is that you will most likely have a hard time finding substantial support and resources to navigate racial tensions on campuses and promote the prosperity and safety of students of color. I have heard countless stories from students attending a myriad of universities who express this exact concern.
I understand that Jesuits have a fierce commitment to social justice and serving others. So it pains me to see that the support and care for Black students is often not as strong as we need it to be.
As someone who has been involved in campus activism for the entirety of my college career, I have noticed that the same handful of people are those expending the emotional, physical, and intellectual labor of organizing on-campus actions or changing on-campus policies.As a student leader and activist, my experience leads me to several things Jesuit institutions throughout the nation can do to better ensure the safety and prosperity of their Black Students. Below are four suggestions that could better the ways in which students of color and Jesuit institutions interact.
#1: Clearly identify supportive Faculty and Staff members.
There are often a few faculty and staff members who are actively committed to promoting the safety and inclusion of students of color, but that support network is not as strong as it needs to be. I shouldn’t have to consistently contact the same professor about changing the way my campus operates. It is not fair to them and I know that there are more faculty members who would be willing to support student movements. I just don’t have the access to them—information of those who are willing to work with students should be readily accessible.
#2: Ensure that there is someone actively charged with promoting diversity and inclusion within both the campus staff and student body.
There has been a lot of talk on my campus about expanding diversity, with very little to tangibly show for these discussions. Establishing a chief diversity officer position is a positive first step, but does not alone remedy the concerns many marginalized students may have. In the future, I would love to see more involvement from students on committees that already exist on campus to promote diversity. I do get invited to some meetings where I feel as though my suggestions for improving the diversity on our campus are heard, but I am usually the only student in attendance and have to actively seek out making these meetings myself. There has to be an open line of communication between students and members of the administration if we are going to achieve anything. An administrative role clearly dedicated to this work would allow student and institutional efforts to be more clearly defined and interconnected.
#3: Student liaisons to provide an open line of communication between student leaders and all levels of administration.
One of the greatest challenges is accessing those who could accomplish the goals student leaders work hard to present to the school. I’ve noticed the same cycle for years: a violent act occurs either on campus or in the world, a few students decide to rally or hold an event in response and craft some demands to make a campus more inclusive. The rally is attended by a small number of faculty and staff, there is generally little response from the president, and we are left emotionally exhausted with no resolution. University presidents are busy, but there has to be some sort of communication with the students. A student liaison for the president could talk to the students and keep the president updated on their demands. From there he or she can decide to meet with various student leaders and address racial issues on an institutional level.
#4: A physical space designated for students of color on campus.
As exists at some universities, a physical space designated for students of color where cultural groups can meet and students of color can connect, socialize and support one another is something I and other students of color have craved. We feel as though this is a need that has grown, especially upon hearing how common such a space is on other campuses. The majority of the population at Jesuit universities is white and I, like many other students of color, must work too hard to actively seek out other students of color to connect with. We are so spread out that it is often hard to connect. There have been several moments where I’ve felt alienated on my own campus and craved a space where I could go to feel safe, comforted, and heard. This is perhaps one of the more pressing needs, as it has to do with the self-preservation of students on campus.
I’m realistic. I know that change takes time, and I am not admonishing universities for the steps they have taken to promote diversity and inclusion. But still, I would be remiss to not ask for more. Because there is still more work to do. This work is integral to the Jesuit value that advocates for being “men and women for others,” a motto I believe indicates that every person must be cared for, and that extends to ensuring that the needs of marginalized students are met and their voices are continually heard.
Mikaela Berry is a senior at Fordham University double majoring in Playwriting and African American Studies. Through advocating for gender inclusive bathrooms on campus, being on the executive board for Fordham’s Black Student Alliance for two years, and serving as a social justice leader for two years, Mikaela continues to find ways to make Fordham a safe and inclusive for every member of the community. She also is the program director for the Police Reform Organizing Project where she is in charge of collecting data and issuing reports that highlight racially biased police practices in addition to working with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, BYP 100 and Black Lives Matter NYC in the Swipe it Forward campaign.