Reflections on the progress and future of diversity on campus

When I arrived at Colby as an incoming first-year in fall of 2010, I encountered a paradoxical fact. I was now a part of a campus context that was overwhelmingly white, yet the rhetoric that followed the incoming class of 2014 as it began its integration through COOT, First Class, and  Loudness was one that extolled the presence of remarkable diversity on campus. The paradox—in which pervasively celebratory rhetoric about racial and international diversity is at odds with reality wherein the level of actual diversity is negligible—has continued to lessen as the administration works to diversify an ever-changing student body. Nevertheless, before I took time off, I was originally a member of Colby’s most diverse class. Objectively, though, the class of 2014 was not truly diverse—no class has been.

Even so, diversity remains a paramount objective for the administration and their labor has gradually borne fruit. But the paucity of diversity has had two negative effects on the wider Colby community: first, it has led to a campus that is not as visually inviting as people have claimed; secondly, it has led to a space that is perceived as alienating to people that don’t look, speak, think or act like the majority.  Yet, while this continues to be an issue that plagues Colby, the community has made perceptible progress in the short three-year period I was gone.

In simple terms, the progress is due in large part to the increasing number of minority students on campus: black, brown, queer, non-middle/non-upper class and international. Minorities have contributed and altered the larger culture of the Colby context. On the other hand, the number of students from New England, the number of students that are white, and the number of students interested in athletics don’t just foster a specific sort of culture here at Colby—they constitute it. Thus, when minority students are introduced to and interact with the Colby space, they gradually transform it because their presence within the bigger culture forces and constitutes changes for the entire community—changes that are either accommodative or exclusionary.  On the whole, changes have been accommodative.

This progress has allowed for students like me to speak, think and act in ways that are natural and reflective of their own cultural identity. In 2010, Colby was much less diverse, so people were less inclined to participate in the larger culture due to social anxiety and fear of alienation. In 2015, things have improved.  Now every kid doesn’t sound like he’s from twenty-minutes outside of Boston; granted, I love my Bostonians and New Englanders to death.  But now there are kids that talk like they’re from Brooklyn and do so proudly.

In short, the level of comfort felt by minority groups is increasing each year as students of color see things about themselves reflected in the broader community. That’s powerful and it’s a remarkably noticeable fact for people who knew Colby as painfully homogeneous only just a few years ago.

Relations between students of different backgrounds have been positively affected; relations are stronger and more intimate. And that’s the basis for a cohesive and thriving student community. As time goes on, with the administration increasing diversity annually, and students of various backgrounds and persuasions entering into the Colby context and reconstituting the space, students’ happiness increases as well. That’s what we all want at the end of the day, right?

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