Correction: The article on page 12 of the Feb. 22 edition of The Pendulum stated that the current number of undergraduate students who identify as a person of color is 1 percent lower than it was the year before. The number of students identifying as a racial or ethnic minority is actually 18 percent, an increase from 17.3 percent the year before. ENN regrets this error.
Ethnic diversity requires us to see the world from a different perspective. It makes us question who we are and frames how we imagine the humans we can become.
This is my story.
I have attended predominantly white institutions for most of my life. And though I am grateful for all the wonderful experiences afforded to me, I can honestly say I wish I had a more diverse classroom setting.
As a young student, I felt sometimes compelled to accept cultures that were not truly my own. I wanted to feel that my thoughts were of value and not restricted by the color of my skin and my African heritage.
It’s usually unspoken, but race and ethnicity matter inside academic buildings. It is not a novelty trend to seldom find people of color in a classroom.
In 2015, The New York Times reported on studies in the United States and Asia that examined the effects of ethnic and racial diversity in answering analytical problems. In the study, participants were separated into homogenous or diverse (including at least one person of a different race or ethnicity) groups.
According to the researchers, “when participants were in diverse company, their answers were 58 percent more accurate.” The breakthrough was not based on an algorithm. Participants scored higher simply because minority students were present. Their critical thinking skills improved as they considered ideas different from their own.
Consider this: In 2011, 21 percent of Elon University faculty members identified as a person of color. Four years later, 25 percent of Elon faculty members identified as a person of color.
Remember that behind every statistic is a story. The 2015 Elon Task Force reported that among the 63 black faculty and staff respondents, 74 percent reported incidents of disparaging race-related comments directed at them, and 65 percent of 151 black student respondents reported the same. In this academic year, less than 20 percent of undergraduate students identified as a person of color.
Our institution praises inclusivity, but as stated earlier, many people are uncomfortable. Just this year, a former professor sued the university for racial discrimination. While an investigation is currently under way, this is one example of how a lack of ethnic diversity can affect campus culture.
I want to acknowledge the considerable advancements made to celebrate diversity on campus. The Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE) and El Centro are all steps in the right direction.
But we should not be satisfied with the status quo.
Reaching out to minority groups enriches social and academic conversations on campus. It can help us fine-tune our minds to become better global ambassadors, understanding the influence of culture in academia.
The struggle to achieve harmonious diversity was a prominent feature of national politics. The Birther Movement, for example, did nothing to encourage acceptance of minority groups. But difficulties at the national level do not downgrade the motive for U.S. universities to promote cultural awareness and ethnic diversity.
I ask you — students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents —to promote Elon among people of different races and ethnicities. I encourage the administration to increase the minority student population.
By increasing awareness of different racial and ethnic groups, we will become more sensitive to and cognizant of the differences that make us unique. In doing so, Elon will become an even more open environment for all of us to benefit from.