To the class of 2022, I would like to welcome you. For some of you, the road to Elon was filled with challenges. Having to break stereotypes, challenge antiquated ways of thinking and push through various boundaries is nothing new to you. And unfortunately, those challenges do not stop here. For those of you who identify with adversity, the reality is that you will inevitably face more during your next four years at this institution.
As I’m sure you all know, Elon prides itself in its commitment to diversity with Phoenix Fusion Weekend, the Odyssey Scholars program and other features on campus seeming to display that. But what seems to get lost in translation is the distinction between the university promoting diversity and an actual campus climate that is inclusive.
I’d like to take a step back and say that Elon does make a good attempt to accept a more diverse student body and hold events that are geared towards various groups and communities on campus. But there also seems to be little done about the way people on campus interact.
The problem with so little variation among students is those who do not fit the “typical Elon” mold can easily become victim to tokenism and feel like they are lost in a student body that does not accept them as an equal and more as a product of Affirmative Action or scholarship opportunities.
Some students will self-identify as “woke,” trying to push conversations towards their majority experience with a token minority friend to display how they are true warriors for the greater cause of social equality. They won’t always listen to your experiences as a minority or appreciate your opinion. But that doesn’t mean to quit sharing them. It doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to get angry. And it doesn’t mean all Elon students are similar to either of the spectrums I just described.
You will find genuine people at this institution who care about your experience, who care about you as a person. You will find your voice and your outlet. Because no matter how many Vineyard Vines polos, blonde tresses, or Lilly Pulitzer dresses you see, there will be someone who finally looks like you. It might take a walk from KOBC to the Comm School, but it’ll happen.
Underrepresentation on campus is not solely visual as diversity is not solely visual. But according to the university's first-year profile for the class of 2021, only 19 percent are students of color. To break that down for you even further, there are about 94 black identifying students and 31 Asian identifying students. We also have an underrepresentation of low-income students, students with varying political affiliations, citizenship statuses and gender identities/sexual orientations. Again, we have resources on campus for these groups, but the climate is not always accepting of these varying factors among students.
So now that you see diversity at Elon is both “fact” and fiction, what should you do to contribute to a better campus climate as an incoming first-year student? For my underrepresented groups, don’t be afraid to speak out. You have a voice, and you can find an outlet on campus in which to share your experiences and find community. Not speaking up is probably the worst thing you can do because there are people who are willing to mentor you and direct you to resources where you can find community.
And if there’s not one on campus? Make your own.
For those of you looking to be an ally for underrepresented groups, genuinely listen to their experience. Be a shoulder for them when they’re frustrated, and don’t push behavioral (or any, for that matter) stereotypes on your new friends. Just be genuine, and express genuine concerns for their struggles. And for the love of everything, learn the difference between empathy and sympathy. Good luck, class of 2022.