By Annabel Lau
Countless students of various ethnicities, seated in a circular formation to inspire feelings of unity, gathered in the Brower Student Center last Tuesday, Feb. 19 for a presentation on a school-sponsored diversity report, part of
the Negro Achievement Week activities on campus.
Three College faculty members led a presentation, followed by a discussion, on the climate of diversity on campus, in the hopes of creating action toward cultural diversity, acceptance and equal opportunity for all.
Jamal T. Johnson, assistant director of Admissions and a College alumnus, spoke about his experience as an Equal Opportunity Fund student at a predominantly white TCNJ over 15 years ago.
Johnson described a sit-in he led as a student to protest threats against minority students. To Johnson’s surprise, other organizations joined in, triggering a legendary week of speeches, protests and widespread media attention.
Kim Pearson, professor of journalism and professional writing and chair of the African American Studies department, explained that a diverse living and educational environment, not solely within the student body but also in the faculty and curriculum, makes for a better academic experience. It is also a matter of social justice.
“Race or class should not preclude the opportunity to attend an institution like this and take advantage of it,” Pearson said.
After getting accepted, some students lack the “social and cultural capital to understand what’s here to be taken advantage of,” Pearson said.
The problem partially lies in the relative lack of diversity within the faculty, in addition to financial obligations that prevent students from devoting time to extracurriculars, research and internships.
Tabitha Dell’Angelo, professor and coordinator of the urban education master’s program, admitted that the College is relatively diverse, but a greater focus needs to be put on equity.
Citing an alarmingly large gap between the percentages of white males versus black males that graduate within six years, Dell’Angelo advocated for providing resources and personalized attention to minority students to help them succeed.
The problem often lies in a phenomenon called “solo status,” in which black or Latino students are often the only minority students in a classroom. Because they are afraid of enforcing stereotypes, an anxiety occurs that hinders their ability to perform, she explained.
Dominique Gadsden, senior English major, expressed the difficulty of always being singled out in the classroom.
“You have to be the black person in the class that has to be the smartest, because you always have to work that much harder,” Gadsden said.
Others, however, saw an advantage to standing out.
“I was able to interact with people who had different perspectives as me and … grew up in different backgrounds (from) myself,” said junior psychology major Leonory Rodriguez. “And then I go into the classroom and it was a chance to shine, like show them, ‘I’m different, but I’m smart.’”