I work on Vector Solutions (formerly Everfi's Campus Prevention Network) higher education team supporting our college and university partners as they implement our courses and seek to create safer, healthier communities for their students. Recently, I’ve been working with institutions to roll out our newest course, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion for Students. My conversations with counterparts working at colleges and universities led me to think about what a course like this would have meant to me as a woman of color while I was attending college.
When I was in school, the word “intersectionality” was not widely known. I present as a “light skinned black female” but how I identify is far more nuanced. I am Mixed, Black, black and white, biracial, African /Italian American. Sometimes I edit which parts of my identify I bring forward based on the space that I am in and who else is present.
In college, without a common vocabulary to talk about such things, I had to navigate the process of understanding and exploring my identity on my own.
Most everyone in college will go through at least one identity transition. In some cases, it will be subtle, like a woman of color choosing to wear her hair natural. Others may be more substantial, such as military veterans learning to assimilate post deployment, or an individual adopting new personal pronouns.
This diversity training for college students explains the importance of diversity and equity in the classroom, and gives students language that they may not be familiar with, but that can help them to understand what they are feeling and why. The course also gives students the opportunity to practice having conversations about these concepts and provides a space for them to reflect on and discuss these issues with others.
Like many of my peers, I didn’t always feel comfortable talking about race issues in the classroom; I would hide my thoughts and ideas in papers that were only read by my professors.
An Vector Solutions colleague commented that a course like this would have “reaffirmed that who I am is OK, and what I feel is my right.” Few, if any, students experience this feeling while attending school, making administrative allyship critical to students’ survival during this confusing and exciting time.
If a person who is transgender knew that all students on their campus were exposed to the concepts in this course and were committed to a shared set of values related to mutual respect, perhaps they would get fewer unenlightened questions about their experience and more “Hey, do you want to go get ice cream at midnight?”
By normalizing these experiences through the concepts presented in the course, students have a set of tools that can be called upon at any time to help a friend better navigate the issues, provide support, and be an ally.
Knitting is one of my hobbies. I love the feel of yarn and the meditative effect of creating something new one row at a time. When I walk into a yarn store, sometimes I just want to talk about yarn, not how I feel about being a black person at a knitting store.
I am frequently the only brown person at events, meetings, in the train car, or at a restaurant. I am continuously aware of this fact while in such situations, and I usually assume that others aren’t UNTIL a topic comes up and I’m needed for the “voice.”
Having to be the “voice” is something that members of a minority group are intimately familiar with, and it can be exhausting to feel like you are always the voice of [insert marginalized identity here]. While I appreciate people asking thoughtful questions and digesting my response, I don’t speak for all black women, mixed women, or women in general.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Students addresses many of the topics I am often called on to explain, like privilege or cultural appropriation, or microaggressions. But it also reiterates that I do not always have to be the one to educate others. It empowers minority students to step away from acting as the “voice” and “educator” and encourages students to seek answers from other sources, including online.
In college, if my alarm didn’t go off, I could quickly run down the stairs and across campus to my Middle East Politics class just a little sweaty and with 30 seconds to spare. It did not cross my mind that not all my peers could sprint to class, but the reality is that students are differently abled and many grapple with the day to day reality of both visible and invisible disabilities.
This course reminds students that privilege comes in many forms - forms that are not often considered. As a black female, I am not afforded many privileges that others have but at the same time I do enjoy some -- like easy mobility-- that others don’t have. The interactive exercise in the course about privilege allows students to reflect on their privileges in ways that they may not have considered before.
In my work today, I am excited by the number of Vector Solutions partners interested in sharing this course with their students. When I was in college a decade ago diversity and inclusion were not challenges presidents, deans, or Student Affairs staff spoke about as openly as they do today and it is encouraging to see the change
Courses like this one demonstrate through words and action that colleges and universities are aware, are empathetic, are listening, and are committed to action.
At the end of of the day, this course would not have fixed everything. But I believe that this course is meant to educate and take the user through their own journey. It does not preach, demand, or insist on change, but seeks to show that the more respect and understanding we have for one other, the healthier our educational experiences will be.