Our commitment to higher education should also coincide with our values as human beings. I want to believe that we still hold true the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s claim that the content of one’s character should matter more than the color of one’s skin. He had a dream of a society that cultivates love for one another, with the guarantee of basic rights and freedoms, like education, that had been stripped away from blacks because of their skin color. But do we really live this way? Is education really accessible for all? Do we all bELONg?
Elon preaches about diversity and inclusivity. However, when we are composed of 18% students of color and 5% black students, how accessible is our university? Or when we have repeated incidents of racial slurs spewed at black students from truck drivers aimlessly driving around campus? Or when we bring former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley to our campus when she, in turn, supports a man who ultimately does not support people of color and thus does not support our minority student population?
Black culture has been upheld in spite of slavery, genocide, mass incarceration and other evils that have been committed in an effort to eliminate and dehumanize us. These tribulations have denied our right to a proper education one way or another — and yet we still prevail. This has fueled our community to value the power of education, despite the systematic and institutionalized oppression we continue to experience.
Since King’s time, America has come a long way. However, the black community still faces challenges. The cost of an education is outrageously high, and the lack of resources in minority communities is seen within our educational systems. The means to obtain a higher education, which include socioeconomic barriers, makes education an unattainable dream for millions across the nation.
As an Odyssey scholar, I know I would not have been able to afford to come to Elon if it weren’t for my scholarship here. A lot of college-bound minority students that I know tend to base their college selections on whichever university will provide them with the most financial support. Without scholarships, many students succumb to debt for the rest of their lives to pay back student loans.
At Elon, a predominantly white institution, we all strive to be academically strong and involved. However, we sometimes forget that we must allow space for others to bELONg as well. There is a high level of privilege, wealth and esteem on this campus. Even T-Pain commented on Elon’s wealth.
I am not shaming anyone who identifies as such — I am urging you to evaluate your privilege. I am not asking you to be ashamed of your privilege, but instead to provide space for others to receive the opportunities and representation that you do.
I challenge you to attend more events that allow you to understand the minority experience and race relations, instead of being scared of giving in to white fragility. These small practices can allow you to be an ally to minority students. Further, attending these events should not be an academic obligation. You should have a desire to help for change needed in divided America today.
Elon, a liberal arts university that aims to have its students challenge the mind, find passion, make bold paths and engage the world, does just that — or, rather, gives students free reign to do so for themselves. We must all strive to make college more accessible for students of color, and truly practice what we preach in terms of diversity and inclusivity. We must lead and come together to build a world that transforms the mind, body and spirit to encourage freedom of thought and liberty of conscience for all.