Here we go again. Another incident of bigotry on our campus, another round of questions and demands for action and another swift reaction from campus leaders for PR damage control. As much as I’d love to be shocked at the most recent bigoted action, I left that naivety behind my freshman year at Wake Forest.
Before I rip the school administration and some (some, not all) of my over-privileged, slightly-to-overtly racist peers, I do want to make it clear that I appreciate my presence here. I appreciate the doors that have opened and the insight that I’ve gained. I most appreciate the freedom of speech that this campus has allowed to make it clear the frustrations of minority students. Now it’s time for me and other students of marginalized identities to do it.
I’ve had enough of this façade that the university has been touting when it comes to diversity. It can have all of the colored faculty and staff and as many offices dedicated to marginalized groups as it wants to, but the neglected component is admissions.
The racial and economic makeup of this institution’s student population is pathetic. The university’s official website reports that the Fall 2018 freshman class had an enrollment of 952 Whites, 0 Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, 121 Latinos/Hispanics, 75 Blacks and 55 Asians. I will note that those numbers are a slight increase from previous years. From a class perspective, the New York Times reported the average median family income at Wake Forest is $221,500, with 71% of the population in the top 20% and a mere 1% considered poor.
As a Black woman with two functioning eyes, I can tell you that the majority of the people my color would be even more menial if you took away those that wear cleats. After an informative trip to the Special Collections in the ZSR Library, I read William Crenshaw’s bills of sale for slaves, some of which helped fund the university. Can a university be partially built upon enslaved Blacks, have a current enrollment of less than 10% (even though it’s positioned in a heavily Black populated area) and then have the audacity to advertise itself as diverse? How much of my being here has to do with seeking diversity, and how much does it have to do with tokenism?
If we were to factor in other marginalized identities (undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ, etc.), it would only worsen. Those significant disparities are meaningful. I understand that there is an economic system that funnels money into the outstanding resources that our institution offers, but that doesn’t excuse these kinds of diversity gaps. It’s these very gaps that are the source of the hatred this campus has experienced. When the ratio between colored, poor and/or any other minority group is trampled on by wealthy white students, there will inevitably be reminders of white supremacy rooted in this university and our society outside of its gates.
To my affluent peers who are indifferent to these social issues, pay attention. Some of your classmates’ families have to scrape everything together just to buy basic necessities; some of your classmates are DACA recipients who live under the constant threat of deportation and discrimination, especially in the wake of the Trump administration’s racist rhetoric against them; some of your classmates struggle with their sexual or gender identity, and their entire lives have been weighed down from bullying and rejection; some of your classmates fight a mental battle in their heads to keep from lashing out at the blatant ignorance or mockery of their pain by their peers. Even though we make up a small portion, we’re still here.
To the administration, I want to reiterate that I am grateful to be a student here. But addressing the bigotry on our campus goes beyond an email. It includes extending more opportunities to more populations that will accurately reflect the wider society in which we live. I understand that you can’t prevent anyone from doing anything hateful, however, a part of molding worldly, tolerant adults is having them mingle among all walks of life, especially with those who don’t have the same background as them. I want an explanation for why our student body lacks the diversity that admissions brochures falsely boasts.
So now what, Wake Forest?