It is not easy to be a person of color in America. Being a person of color on a campus is un-easier still. Narrow that field down and being a person of color at Lehigh can often feel like a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I love Lehigh. I love Drown Hall which increasingly, has started to feel like my second home. I love the woods that appear to spring out of the earth on all sides as I take the bus to campus. I even love taking the bus – as clustered and dangerous as it can feel sometimes.
But standing out – something which to a certain degree, I experienced in New York – is a whole other experience at Lehigh. By standing out, do not mean that there are absolutely no other people of color (POCs) at Lehigh, I just mean that sometimes it feels as though there aren’t enough of us. While the University states how increasingly, it strives for more diversity on campus, I still experience little waves of shock every time I see an African-American student, a girl in a hijab or members of the University, who appear to be Indian or Pakistani. People like me.
At my former college, when we spoke of diversity, it didn’t feel limited or outlandish. I had four African-American classmates, one Chinese classmate, two Indian classmates and myself, the Pakistani. Again, this isn’t to say that it always sounds out of place when diversity, cultural appropriation or the after-effects of colonization are talked about at Lehigh.
It’s still funny though.
I sit there with one or two other classmates of color amongst a sea of whiteness. The sea of whiteness swells with a debate on how so and so text depicts the after-effects of colonization or the message that a white author is trying to get across, regarding the seeds of colonization when they were first sown.
If you think about it, the white folks who surround us are perhaps heirs to a legacy of dominance, white superiority, colonization and hetero-normative attitudes. We – the pinpricks of color on an otherwise all white chessboard, had fathers, mothers, ancestors who were in some way or the other, subject to a culture of Western indoctrination.
Yet here we are, over a hundred years later, being told, assured in some manner or the other, that our white classmates or faculty members can understand – that they sympathize – with the dilemma that we face.
Again, that isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate their trying to understand the dilemma which I face as a person of color caught between two very distinct realities.
It is true: we do carry the baggage of our past but the load might feel lighter were the University to actually accept the challenge it has proposed. In terms of visibility, there needs to be an addition to the cacophony of voices we are already exposed to: diversity should not simply be a token of an institutions liberalism. We need to actually talk about these issues: how does it feel to be a Muslim Asian student in an almost all-white space? How does it feel to be one of the few people in your class who might perhaps not necessarily identify in terms of a gender binary code? Are you aware that when it comes to the texts that you study they are predominantly the product of white, male writers? And finally, are you actually aware that talking about issues that lurk in the periphery of your mind is a far better way to settle subconscious conflicts and confusions rather than sweeping it away to a corner of your consciousness? In other words, in order to be politically correct, how about trying to act politically correct?