‘I feel like I am the token minority’

Students of color feel singled out on campus

Kelsey Drayton, left, and Gabriel Walker stand in the Knutson Campus Center Atrium as students walk by. Photo by Maddie Malat.

Imagine going to a college where you are the minority. When sensitive societal and cultural aspects of your race are brought up in class, some people may expect you to speak for the race you represent. You are afraid to speak up.

This scenario is similar to what Concordia juniors Gabriel Walker and Kelsey Drayton have felt while attending Concordia College, since they are two of the few students on campus who identify as black.

Walker is a junior vocal performance major who is very familiar with being racially outnumbered in his classes.

“I feel like I am the token minority at Concordia,” Walker said. “The way I dress, the way I speak and the way I interact with others is different.”

Drayton, a public relations and multi-media journalism major, expressed what it means to be a token minority.

“When you think of black people on campus, one male or female or both come to mind and that is who you think represents or holds the whole voice for that subset of people,” Drayton said.

This fall, 2,381 students enrolled and only 173 of those students are of color, not including international students.

Scott Ellingson, Dean of Admissions, said that is about 7.5 percent of the student body. However, that percentage does not include the few students who may not report their race when they enroll. Ellingson said Admissions gives students a choice to provide their race, but do not require them to.

With the small percentage of minority students, being a token minority can happen anywhere and is expressed in variety of ways. For Walker, it happened in Anderson Commons.

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Gabriel Walker is featured on Concordia’s website, a picture he thought would be of the entire table he was sitting at in dining services.

He was eating lunch with his friends when a photographer walked in. The photographer approached Walker’s table and politely asked if he could take a few photographs. Walker was fine with pictures being taken because he had assumed the photographs would be of the whole table. However, he soon realized the pictures were only of him.

“It was really embarrassing,” he said.

Walker believes the photo may be put into one of Concordia’s advertisement to show how diverse the campus is. Walker thinks adding in pictures of students of color in the pamphlets doesn’t always convey the right message.

“I feel the ratio of diversity is misrepresented in advertising and people don’t know it’s a predominantly white institution,” Walker said.

Another time Walker felt used as an advertisement for college diversity was during a time in choir.

“When the Concordia Choir goes on tour they feature four different people each year [in the program], most of which aren’t music majors … they want to say anyone can be in the ensemble,” Walker said. “They featured me and I wanted to … make sure it wasn’t because I was a person of color.”

After asking why he was featured, Walker was told that Concordia Choir featured him because he is an out-of-state student and they wanted to show that students come from other states for the music program. While Walker accepted this reasoning, he still couldn’t shake the feeling it had to do with color as well.

Walker did not feel the college’s sole goal in their advertising is to display diversity. In his opinion, he felt the college was seeking to be inclusive of all students attending Concordia.

Drayton is also a member of choir and feels the color of her skin was used to show diversity in choir.

“There is a picture of me in the choir hall when I wasn’t even in choir at that time,” Drayton said. “It made me feel like that I was a token minority … I think they used it for diversity and needed that representation.”

A variety of colleges, not just Concordia, will include photos of students of color to show off their diversity, even if there is a small representation of that race actually on campus. Drayton believes that to be true and thought Concordia’s features of minority students is intentional.

“I have noticed that we have had more people of color on campus the past few years,” Drayton said.

Drayton wasn’t just imagining things. Ellingson said that the percentage of students of color enrolled at Concordia has improved the last few years. Within the last two years Concordia has had the same percentage of minority students, which is an increase from the 6.3 and 5.7% of the two years prior.

“For the past couple of years we have been the best we have been in a long time,” Ellingson said.

Drayton worked with advertising as the Ad Manager for The Concordian last year and she has done some publicity for LDS and is passionate with how it works. With her work experience, she can understand why the college features the minority students.

“Colleges should [feature minority students] because it’s a resource to draw in a new crowd, but it [also gives] a false perception that there is more diversity.”

Ellingson, staff in Admissions, and their colleagues in Communications and Marketing frequently hear both sides of featuring minority students in campus ads. He knows some students like to see more pictures of minority students in terms of representation, while others feel the ads could give the impression that Concordia is more diverse than it really is.

“It is certainly our goal to be as welcoming and as inclusive to all as we can be,” Ellingson said. “It is both important and appropriate that our materials reflect the diversity that we currently have on campus, and to encourage growth in that diversity.  It can be especially challenging when someone sees one picture or one brochure rather than the complete set of materials we use.  One of the ways we address this issue is to be as open as we can be with the actual statistics related to the ethnicity of our campus community.”

When Walker applied for Concordia and was accepted, he was not expecting a predominantly white campus. He didn’t have the money to visit, and coming from a diverse community in Houston, Texas, he didn’t know the community either. During his freshmen year, it was a struggle to adjust.

“It has been difficult,” Walker said. “This is the first year where I have had one other person of color in my class.”

Walker felt intimidated in class and found it hard to speak up at first. He felt like some people were thinking he doesn’t know anything and would look down on him because he is a person of color. This feeling really affected him during freshmen year when he was late to his 8 a.m. religion class.

“As soon as I walked in all the heads turned and I didn’t expect to be the only black person there,” Walker said.

Since then, Walker has connected with people on campus and is not as intimidated.

“I am a strong willed person, so in some ways, that didn’t affect me,” Walker said.

There was a time for Drayton as well where she felt less than comfortable sitting in a classroom.

The majority of the time, when a controversial topic such as slavery or racism is brought up, people will look at Drayton, expecting her to say something, or to react.

She remembered sitting in journalism class learning about a senator using the n-word and she felt like students expected her to say something in response because of her identity as a black student.

Walker and Drayton feel the pressure to represent their race because they have grown up with society’s different perceptions and assumptions based on their race.

“The perpetuated stereotypes that exist play a role in the intimidation and preconceived notions that people have,” Walker said. “I’ve felt a need to be the face of the black community here when people look at me. I feel like they think ‘oh that’s [what] all black people are like.’”

Walker feels the pressure to keep up a good reputation, to watch how he dresses, speaks and interacts with other people.

“I feel like I carry a huge responsibility,” Walker said. “I am being myself but I don’t want to give way to the stereotypes of people of color.”

According to Drayton, the stereotypes vary depending on the color of an individual’s skin and their sex. Drayton explained that as a culture, black people are generally seen as aggressive and females are hypersexualized. Drayton is naturally large chested, but if she wears a shirt that’s too tight or too low, she plays into the stereotype of a hypersexualized black woman. Drayton is careful to not show too much.

Drayton can also recall a few examples where her natural hair drew some negative attention. While singing in choir Drayton has heard girls complain they could not see the director around her hair.

Despite the judgement she has faced, Drayton loves who she is, especially her hair.

“I love my hair … it’s awesome.”

Other than just first impression or appearance, a minority student’s emotions can even be connected to their race and stereotyped. Drayton said black women are usually depicted as angry.

“If I get angry, people assume that I am just black and angry, but I am genuinely upset,” she said. “A lot of people put it on my race instead of my emotion.”

Walker has hopes Concordia will become more diverse.

“I feel like I would be able to relate to people better, whether that be socioeconomic or religious wise,” Walker said. “When you have that diversity, it gives you the chance to find out more about yourself and find out more about people other than you. It connects with the whole brewing thing.”

Walker’s college experience hasn’t been completely negative concerning his race. Concordia’s tight knit community gave him the opportunity to make connections before he moved in and helped him find his niche in the music community.

“Being surrounded by mostly white people helped me find myself and how I fit into this community … it’s not necessarily bad,” Walker said. “I’ve [realized] I identify not just as a person but as a black person … it has shaped a lot of who I am and who I want to be.”

Concordia admissions is aware the college isn’t as diverse as some, and it is something they are trying to improve. However, Ellingson said that looking at the Fargo Moorhead area, it itself is predominantly white as well. With that said though, Ellingson also had noticed Fargo-Moorhead is changing.

“We certainly know that the demographics are changing so it’s important for Concordia see what experience it can offer to students to see [minority enrollment] grow,” Ellingson said.

Ellingson and admissions are working to try and attract students, as high school graduates increasingly are students of color, and are working to make Concordia an option for everyone. However, getting students to come up to the Fargo-Moorhead area can sometimes be a challenge.

“[Students] will look at ‘am I going to feel immediately at home and feel comfortable,’” Ellingson said.

One way Ellingson thought could make Concordia comfortable for minority students would be increasing the diversity in the staff who can be resources and role models while attracting more students.

Concordia may be predominantly white, and a lot of its students and faculty may not know what it means to be a student of color on a white campus, but Drayton said Concordia’s discussions about race have helped to give the campus a glimpse of what that might be like.

In reference to the Bi-racial talk put on by the sociology department, Drayton expressed how important those type of talks are for the campus.

“It explains the diversity we do have on campus and the viewpoints of the diverse groups,” Drayton said.

Local high schools and high schools in the twin cities are changing in demographics and have put programs in place to help encourage every student to think of college as an option.

Concordia has been putting forth efforts to work with the schools’ programs to address Concordia’s diversity and open up the doors to incoming students of all races.

“Some of the things we are doing, particularly in the twin cities, is working with some of the college readiness and access groups in high schools,” Ellingson said.

Admissions has worked with these programs like Avid and College Possible to organize bus trips to bring students to Concordia, Ellingson said. Students spend the night to go on tours, campus presentations and learn about Cobber campus life.

Concordia is doing this, Ellingson said, because minority students can’t imagine a college life for themselves.

“One of the challenges we face is the growth of high school graduates, who are minority students who don’t have college in mind,” Ellingson said. “We have to start at a younger age and help them see college as a reality and that college can happen in their future.”

Ellingson also said they are looking to increase the diversity in the admissions staff. Admissions welcomes applications from minorities and people of color.

There were times that Walker and Drayton thought about transferring. There were times where they thought about finding a more diverse college. However, Concordia and its community resonates with them.

“NYU and other colleges in Texas are more diverse, but I chose [Concordia] because of the music program and the scholarship I got,” Walker said. “I don’t regret that and I wouldn’t change [that decision]. [Concordia] has shaped who I am as a person and I have learned a lot about myself as a human being, a person of color, and being prideful in who you are.”

As for Drayton, she has been looking at a few historically black graduate schools to get the opportunity to experience different culture, but she is willing to wait till graduation because she does not want to transfer from Concordia.

“Concordia has a pull on me that I can’t break free of.”

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