By Sojin Shin || Contributing Writer
We all remember the flyers on the walls of Stager last year, with those oddly pixelated, eerie eyes of Martin Luther King Jr. looming upon us. Controversy regarding the title (and the design) aside, the content of the flyer was essentially a formal complaint about the disproportionate number of non-white faculty members. Indeed, faculty diversity has risen to be an important topic of discussion, especially as the demographic landscape for the student body of Franklin & Marshall has significantly changed.
Before further delving into the topic, is important to note that the student body of Franklin & Marshall has experienced a steady increase in racial and ethnic diversity. Just in the last year, Franklin & Marshall admitted 142 international students. The total percentage of students who identify as African or Caribbean American is 7%, while those who identify as Hispanic is roughly 8%. Clubs such as Asian American Alliance and Black Students Union have been highly active on campus.
However, there are claims that the trend towards racial diversity among the student body is not reflected in the racial composition of the faculty. This was particularly true for the students that I have interviewed. “It just feels isolating,” said Student D, who complained that she felt disconnected from her environment, since there was no one to understand the subtle nuances and cultural implications of her Vietnamese heritage. Another international student asked me, “how many are there…..one? two [non-American faculty members] that are not in the language department? Maybe it’s not that good.”
Here I must point out something: even though the students are frustrated, they do not necessarily want, and I bring up this term carefully, “racial quotas.” Every single student I have interviewed was dismissive about the idea that professors of non Anglo-American or European background should have advantages in the hiring process. They would absolutely prioritize knowledge and reputation of a professor over the color of their skin. Knowing this, it is clear that the issues these students experience are much more complex, and far from pejorative. Rather, their frustrations are founded on much more concerning emotions: a sense of isolation and fear of losing touch with their culture.
So how should we resolve this problem? How must we relieve the tension that accompanies, frankly, quite the damning task of being a minority? Perhaps there is no definite answer, but there are definitely ways we could try. The first possibility is to diversify the curriculum, especially in the humanities department. I am glad to say that this is a direction that F&M has been taking, as shown by various history courses on Latin America provided in the Fall 2019 semester. Still, F&M can expand this agenda further. Professors who specialize in various cultures, whether their skins be white, black, or brown, are both the gateways and guides for understanding other cultures. If we have a course about European Folktales, we should have courses on Western African fairy tales or Mongolian cuisine. If there is a course as specific as “American Masculinities,” maybe F&M should offer a course that is titled “Matriarchy in Vietnam.” This type of curriculum will not only relieve the tension we have discussed, but it will also provide opportunities for intellectual growth for people of every ethnic and racial background.Alternatively, we can further push the culture of dialogue and communication, a path I am proud to say we are now pursuing. Both the student organizations and administration should host events and encourage students to discuss the issues regarding race and ethnicity. While these topics at times were source of disputes and disagreements, we should take a mature stance that even those disputes are a part of the process in understanding each other. We will never make progress if we shy away from our differences.
As seen, making a campus environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone is not an easy task. Learnedness and effective communication, two core values of a liberal arts education, does seem like a good starting place, however. Diversified subjects will enhance the students’ understanding of each other’s culture. At the same time, we would not cease talking with people who we encounter in our daily lives. But we should understand that this will take a lot of manpower; both the administration and students will have to cooperate.
First-year Sojin Shin is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.