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Diversity and Divide

Opinion | October 23, 2011

art by Margarita Krylov

“Diversity and inclusion are central to the educational mission of Tufts University.” Statistically, that may be true. Socially, it is not.

We may have a diverse campus, but it is not an interconnected one, and I feel that admitting increased numbers of minorities and international students can only help so much.

Take one look around Dewick dining hall, the tables at Tisch, or even the packs of students walking around the quad, and you’ll see what I mean. To be blunt, it reminds me of an ethnic version of Mean Girls. Students predominantly spend time with those who share a common ethnic and cultural background. In Latin Way, there is even a tower colloquially known as the “Chinese” tower.

I won’t pretend that there are not exceptions to this behavior—several students of mixed ethnicities hang out together, linked by common interests, or simply a conscious choice to transcend self-segregation. But I’ve found that at Tufts, this is not the norm; it’s the exception. Social psychologists may call this kind of behavior implicit egotism, the natural tendency to gravitate toward the similar and the familiar. And I’m sure some of it may be explained by psychology. But I believe that the heart of the problem lies in our approach to diversity here at Tufts.

When I arrived at Tufts my freshman year, I was immediately bombarded with emails from the campus’s cultural centers: Africana, Asian-American, International, Latino. The students in these groups are immediately immersed into a fantastic cultural experience, through which they meet ethnically similar students and connect through common heritage. As enlightening as this might be, I feel it’s also extremely limiting.

As a person of minority status on this campus, I avoid going to any event sponsored by a cultural center or ethnically orientated group. Simply put, I’ve found that I gain a more diverse and overall complete college experience by avoiding them altogether. I feel like these ethnic-specific environments would too narrowly define and categorize me based on my background, hindering my exposure to Tuft’s eclectic and student body.

Yes, cultural centers accept those of all races and invite non-ethnic members to attend their events. But students don’t commonly accept the invite. I attended a grand total of one “cultural” event my freshman year at Tufts—the ice cream social at the Asian-American house. I dragged some of my friends from my dorm along who were not Asian and, suffice to say, they immediately felt uncomfortable and out of place. Nobody was outwardly rude to them—in fact, they were perfectly pleasant—but it was as if they had broken a social norm; they just didn’t belong.

Self-segregation continues as upperclassmen decide to live in La Casa or the Africana Center or any other ethnic or racially based house, where they interact strictly with others of their background. At least as a freshman, you at least have the opportunity to see and co-mingle with other ethnicities due to racially diverse dorms and the random roommate process. Conversely, upperclassmen living in ethnic houses don’t have to interact with other ethnicities in a social setting if they choose not to.

These homes essentially breed self-segregation. How many times have we been told that we grow the most at college outside the classroom? By living with our own race or ethnicity, and closing ourselves off entirely from students of other races, I feel like we’re stunting our growth and not getting the most out of what Tufts has to offer.

The one special-interest home on campus that I believe tries to transcend this issue is the International House. Home to 18 students from different countries, including the US, the residents of the I-House strengthen intercultural ties.

I do not think the failure to integrate students of various races is a situation unique to Tufts. However, I do feel that this should be a non-issue at Tufts, where diversity is essentially part of the administration’s creed.

So, what can we do to fix this?First, we have to acknowledge as a student body that the current situation needs to be fixed. The most ethnically mixed place at Tufts should not be at a frat basement during a party or the  18 students that live in the I-House. There should be no more students walking around April Open House wearing t-shirts that read, “Ask me what it is like to be a black student here at Tufts.” The Tufts experience should not be different because of the color of your skin.

I also feel that we need to genuinely make an effort to make a truly diverse group of friends, which will allow us to be truly interconnected as a student body. The cultural centers should make more of an effort to reach out to the entire Tufts community and educate all students about their respective cultures—instead of just focusing on providing an outlet for their own.

Diversity should be more than a statistic, but a  genuine embodiment of Tufts culture.