Kevin Torres-Jurado, Culture Editor |
I won’t lie to you. I never really realized I was a person of color until I was a college student at SUNY Oneonta. Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew I had color on my skin, I knew every day I would wake up with the same tan I have now, with the same non-straight hair I shape up every three to four weeks, but that was just my life. That was just what I was.
I never really grew up around “white” people. All my friends were a shade of brown or a shade of black. If they were white, they weren’t culturally “white.” That was just how they came out of the womb. Pale. Queens is known as the “The World’s Borough,” and it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized that nickname holds true. Growing up, I had friends from Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, China, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc. We co-existed while talking about our similarities, differences, and ways of life, as rational folk should. We existed and that’s all there was to it. I can’t remember a time when we got into an argument because of our skin color, culture, religion, or nationality. Sure, there would be jokes here and there, but we knew it was harmless. We knew what we meant. We knew our self-worth and where we came from even if we weren’t in a country we felt we belonged to.
As a kid, I was Kevin. I was Kevin from Ozone Park whose parents worked late, who was raised by his abuelita, and whose entire family, except for him, was born in a place called Ecuador. It was six hours from his house via plane. It was very hot.
As I grew up, I realized that there was more to me than the previous paragraph. This was partly due to the white people around me. I don’t think my friends and I messed up anyone else’s names, but for some reason, our teachers just couldn’t get our names right. I remember cringing at the sound of a teacher messing up a student’s name for the twelfth time that day. I remember reading along with the class and being irritated by the fact that a peer or teacher could not pronounce the name of a character, and so they shortened it to just the first letter of the name and kept it moving. I remember having to translate all of the Parent/Teacher Conferences my mother went to and having to listen to the teacher talk very slowly to my mother. The only white people in my life, I realized, were authoritative figures. Teachers, principals, school security guards, and police officers. As I grew up, I realized I was underrepresented.
SUNY Fast Facts says that “In 2015-16, SUNY served nearly 1.3 million students.” 11.5 percent of them are Hispanic/Latino, 10.6 percent of them are Black or African-American, 5.6 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, 6.4 percent are unknown, 5.2 percent are non-resident “alien,” 0.4 percent are American Indian/Alaskan Native, and 0.1 percent are Hawaiian Native/Other Pacific. Of these 1.3 million people, 58 percent are white. 58 percent!
With numbers like these, it should come as no surprise when people of color say they feel underrepresented on their campus. From the school hiring white chefs to cook under-salted multicultural dishes to represent a whole country for one day, to the house parties with hosts who only play emo or pop-punk music and with attendants who get uncomfortable when the one rap song played has the n-word in it. The stares I get when I’m outside talking on the phone with my mother in Spanish. The people that automatically assume I’m an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student. The micro-aggressions or blatant racism that other students and I recieve from faculty, staff, and students on and off campus. The school or the school organizations that book entertainers that lack melanin and diversity. The professors that butcher our first and last names. These are all some of the reasons as to why many students and I feel underrepresented on the campus that we will eventually pay thousands of dollars to have attended.
Now, the question lies, how can we fix this problem? There are various ways to solve this. We have to feel less intimidated and uncomfortable in order to talk about this issue; from both sides. We have to be more open and respectful, and we need to realize that not everyone is like you or the few friends you’ve got around you. More people should be standing up for diversity. We shouldn’t just have an optional diversity event in a small Fitzelle classroom. Better yet, we shouldn’t need a club specifically dedicated to diversity so that people feel included and confront this subject. More people should be standing up for diversity. We need more diverse school programs led by diverse people in the standard curriculum.
I think the most important thing that we as people should do to solve these issues is to stop being so exclusive. If you’re from the city, do not only hang out with people who are from the city. If you’re white, black, Latino, or Asian, stop hanging out with only people of the same racial background. Get out there more. And if anybody offends you, let it be known. Make your voice heard.