POC call for more representation at Whitworth

by Ike Emeche

Whitworth continues to become more diverse every year. According to the Whitworth website, the domestic underrepresented racial/ethnic enrollment of undergraduate students in the class of 2020 was 23.6 percent, and 29.7 percent in the class of 2021. In two years, that number of diverse students from a racial/ethnic perspective has grown 6.1 percent.

People of Color (POC) have many negative experiences at historically white institutions like Whitworth. It’s hard to fit into a system that wasn’t made for you. These negative experiences stem from the fact that there is a majority culture at Whitworth. That majority defaults to a white one. It fills every room, expanding to the farthest corners of the back 40, asserting its primacy in every moment.Those who don’t fit into that feel as if they don’t belong, and POC feel that way.

Cultural Events Coordinator Kamau Chege believes that minority students are disadvantaged in the way the curriculum in various departments is constructed, for instance by following a white majority history, by majority professors’ backgrounds, admissions, the board, and the administration. Frankly, there’s a lot of things on campus that I can’t relate to like professors’ and students’ backgrounds and experiences. Those who don’t fit into typical white experiences are marginalized. I believe this is evident in the ways that POC (for example international students, other non-white ethnic groups) seem to be more separated from their white peers.

Academically, students of color have to deal with the truth of a curriculum that doesn’t represent them very well. Sophomore Lacy Nguyen highlights the dominating white Anglo-Saxon Protestant male perspective that is often taught. In many of my classes I’ve felt as though my professors have not made the effort to understand my experience as a POC. Nguyen goes on to say “there are also not a lot of professors who are people of color, so it can sometimes make you feel like ‘Can I get to that next level? Can I get a Master’s? Can I get a PhD?’ Because no one here in this network of academia looks like me. It makes you second guess yourself.”

Executive Vice President Dylan Reyes says  the ethnic part of his identity hasn’t been highlighted as much as in and out of the classroom as he would prefer. Reyes says that his experiences at Whitworth have been limited, and he always questioned who he was and if it mattered to anyone since no one asked questions.  Reyes says “I have to remind people, this is a part of my identity, this is who I am, and I’m not going to shy away from that and I’m not going to shy away from telling people who I am anymore.”

There needs to be a change to help POC during their time here at Whitworth, so what could possible solutions be? Chege is working to have student government visually and conceptually in terms of action reflect the wide range of lived experiences in the student body. “If you go through four years of Whitworth, you should have a good understanding of what the structures of power of the country you live in when it comes to class and race and gender and all the rest.”

There are still systems that benefit white students, the majority culture here on campus. This can be seen in leadership positions like ASWU. For example, before representative elections, the senators on campus had no students of color on the voting assembly. As a result from reconstructing the zone representative application, like advertising in the International Student Center and not requiring a resume for an elected position, there are four new zone representatives who are students of color on the voting assembly.

Nguyen suggests to hire more professors and faculty of color in every single department, not just in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. “It’s so crucial for students of color to see other people of color in professional positions in higher education to make us feel like we can do it.” She also suggested a required cultural competency class for all students to take, aiming to teach students how to talk to people who are different than them. Although long-term goals are daunting, we must start looking for solutions now.

Everyone has different identities based on race, ethnicity and other variables, and we should be proud to show it off. Reyes says that his identity as a person of color shapes everything that he knows: his view of God, of the church, of work, of inclusivity and what the word actually means.“I don’t think it means what people want it to mean at Whitworth, especially those of the majority culture. They don’t really get what inclusivity looks like because they are not on the side of exclusivity.”

In short, the answers are not going to be an easy fix, but Reyes offers a starting point: “You won’t find the solution from someone of the majority culture, it will come with working with people from the minority and actually learning from them and being led by them.”It is important to change the system with so that future generations of POC can feel like they belong and contribute to Whitworth in a system that accommodates all voices.

Contact Ike Emeche at iemeche17@my.whitworth.edu