By Nicholas Riebel || Staff Writer
During a dinner on Wednesday with Donnell Bailey ’17, president of the Diplomatic Congress, we discussed diversity issues on campus, and he invited me to attend the Diplomatic Congress meeting, which was taking place the next day. He told me that it would focus on diversity issues on campus– those often hard-to-talk-about issues of race and racism that many colleges are publicly struggling with right now. He told me that he has grown more eager to confront the issue here, and that he has grown to believe even more in the power of activism.
As I entered the meeting, it was obvious that Diplomatic Congress members are not used to outsiders sitting in at their meetings, although they have always been open to all students. Tucked away in the Armstrong Room in the Steinman College Center, it seemed to me like an insulated, tucked-away part of the school: an isolated ivory tower, at least a place where outside voices may not easily penetrate.
But in thinking back on the meeting, I am still amazed at just how kind and tolerant the students were. Bailey, who graciously invited me to observe the meeting, successfully passed a Constitutional Amendment to establish (or re-establish) a Diversity Council here which was supported unanimously. I was invited to pose with the Diplomatic Congress to show our support for the White House’s #ReachHigher initiative. This initiative is run by First Lady Michelle Obama and encourages high school students to attain higher education.
I regret not making the Uncommon Hour discussion on Tuesday about diversity and inclusiveness on campus. But I believe that some students here may believe that this Uncommon Hour was just a way for the F&M Administration to save face after racist Yik Yak comments were posted by students last weekend. People may be concerned that grand meetings and speeches will not matter if they are followed by inaction.
I am being somewhat vague in this article, or perhaps not too exact, because I wish to speak carefully about this issue. As a straight, white male, I cannot say with a straight face that I know the difficulties, or understand the experiences, of others who are not in my gender, my race, my sexual orientation, or countless other (often socially-constructed) groups. I cannot say I have experienced or seen true bigotry on this campus, and I believe that the vast majority of F&M students do not support bigotry or racism. Intolerance is increasingly not tolerated.
Yet, given the issues raised at last week’s discussion on diversity and the bigotry expressed on Yik Yak, it seems clear that we should continue to have dialogues among students and administrators about these issues.
Bailey told me one of his hopes is to have a more diverse Board of Trustees. I told him this would likely be the most difficult of the challenges the Diversity Council would face, and which may not be resolved by the time he and I graduate. But, as cliché as it sounds, we do have some power, enough power to make a difference. We must make each other more aware about what we experience on campus and aim for a better, more tolerant, and more loving place.
I hope students will consider joining the Diversity Council and getting involved with the #ReachHigher initiative. My hope is that students’ enthusiasm does not dwindle and that these important issues continue to be present in student and campus dialogues.
Before attending the Diplomatic Congress meeting, I thought that my job writing for The College Reporter was small and straightforward: just reporting the issues of the day and giving my perspective. However, I’ve realized that I had a power I didn’t know I had– the power as the watchdog, serving as a member of our fourth estate to make sure that our student government and the F&M Administration are doing the right thing. I know I for one will be keeping a closer eye.
Junior Nicholas Riebel is a staff writer. His email is nriebel@fandm.