Angela Davis, USF, and the Diversity Problem

Antara MurshedAntara Murshed is a senior environmental science major.

Last week, Doctor Angela Davis visited USF to speak about racism in higher education. McLaren was packed on that Tuesday evening as Doctor Davis seamlessly pieced together the larger social, political, and economic structural forces that shape racism and how it manifests itself in higher education. Although I was also busy sitting in awe and disbelief that I was in her presence, she mentioned something that night that I really think should be brought into the spotlight on our campus.

Doctor Davis spoke about the concept of schools with diversity outreach offices. Or offices of diversity and inclusion. Or offices of diversity and community engagement. Whatever it is you want to call it, there are campuses across the country with offices set aside to make sure that their schools are being inclusive or diverse. And of course, that is a great, well-intentioned concept. But to the people running these offices, how do they interpret the meaning of the word ‘diversity’ and why do we care about diversity in the first place?

When I was applying to USF and trying to find out more about the school, what stood out most to me were declarations of how diverse the school is. U.S. News ranks USF as the seventh most ethnically diverse school in the nation. If you go on the USF website and read up on the undergraduate student body statistics, 24% are Asian-American, 29% are Caucasian, 20% are international (not a race, but okay), and 19% are Latino or Hispanic. The percentage of people who identify as Latino or Hispanic in the city of San Francisco is 15%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Our school population has a higher percentage of Latino or Hispanic people than the surrounding city does, which is really interesting. Yet, the population of African-American students is 4%. Clearly, diversity does not mean equity.

Our school definitely has a lot of non-white students. According to a study carried out by the Georgetown School of Public Policy in 2013, white students make up 70% of the population in the country’s top 468 colleges and universities. Our school population does not reflect that statistic, but does having a population with a lot of students of color on campus mean that we’re being equally inclusive? The answer to that question is a resounding ‘no’. Of the four percent of African American students that make up our school’s population, only 55% percent of those students go on to graduate from our institution, according to the USF page on Forbes college rankings.

I know that our Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach has made strides in shaping USF to be a more racially inclusive place. Examples of their accomplishments include creating the Diversity Scholar and Visiting Professor Program and the Diversity Speaker series, the latter of which Danny Glover was a speaker just last semester. However, perpetuating diversity rhetoric by creating this atmosphere of selective multiculturalism is problematic. The people in places of power who get to define what diversity is says a lot about how they view people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Diversity shouldn’t just be defined in terms of non-whiteness. Diversity without equity, diversity that doesn’t include everyone isn’t diversity.

Angela Davis discussed several dominating global structures that influence racial inequality. Factors could be the rise of exploitative, globalized capitalism in the 80’s, ignorance of white privilege, or the concept of model minorities being used as a weapon to perpetuate anti-blackness. I’m aware that larger issues of racial inequality may go beyond the capabilities of a school to address, but we must remember that education is not a commodity and we need more than what currently exists to tear down institutionalized racism. If there ever was a place to start addressing issues of race inequality in a more real way, USF could be a great place to begin.

Photo courtesy of Racquel Gonzales/Foghorn

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