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Diversity must start at the top

“What do you think Concordia can do to bring more diverse students into the campus community?” This is a question I frequently hear from staff and students working in one way or another to recruit “diverse” students to Concordia. This same question was asked again during the MLK panel discussion last week, and the answer given by NDSU student Fred Edwards was “The question is not what we can do to attract more diverse students. The question should be how can we get people to stay at predominantly white schools all through their four years? The way of doing this is by having diverse programs, diverse curriculum and most importantly, diverse leadership positions and diverse faculty”.

This reply sounded like a breath of fresh air, not because it was coming from a student who attends a different college, but because this was the answer that myself and a lot of other students have always given when asked on this topic. Concordia is always finding ways to make itself a diverse and somewhat inclusive community. However, this can never happen if you don’t have a support system in place. Before we even continue on this discussion, it would be great to know what inclusion and diversity means to Concordia as a community.

Yes, Concordia welcomes people from different backgrounds and belief systems. However, for myself and many other students of color, the Concordia experience does not feel diverse or inclusive. Not only is the system at Concordia not set up to help with these issues, but there are students who come into Concordia and walk out of Concordia in their own bubble, students who come into freshman year with their own sets of ideas and graduate without understanding a different perspective. Sometimes the perspective they come in with is an ignorant one. I have heard students say things like, “Well maybe you guys should try taking the first step,” or “Maybe you people should include yourselves into the community instead of hanging out by yourselves.” If you are among the people who say this, maybe next time you should think about why we are not taking the first step. We are usually not taking the first step because we don’t know what direction to go. Imagine being in a group where you are looked down on because people have a stereotype they are using to judge you with. Imagine being in a group and trying to take the first step, but you are shut down because your ideas don’t fit their “standards.” Imagine trying to include yourself in a group, but you are made to feel left out because you have an accent, which by the way, most of us with so-called accents speak about three to seven languages.

I have met domestic students who have taken the first steps and international students who have taken these steps as well, and this has resulted in great friendships from both sides. However, on a larger scale, it is not easy coming to a school where you hope to spend the next four years of your life and wonder whether you will fit in or not. Normally I would say, “But look at where we live. The community is not as diverse.” I am focusing on the campus community, because it is a place of learning, and learning should include different perspectives and ideas. Last Christmas break, I met students who were in the U.S. for the first time, and one of their main issues was having a place to stay for Christmas break. Unfortunately, it was not easy to find help because there was no affordable system in place to help students who don’t live around here for Christmas. Their alternatives were to ask a friend who lived in an apartment or pay $14 a night to stay in Park Region. I don’t know how long this rule has been in place, but I felt that these students, who were mostly freshmen, should have been given a way better alternative. Maybe there should be housing and feeding options for those who live far away and can’t make it home for Christmas. Also, it would be nice having diverse staff and faculty members, because sometimes people like you understand you better without  you having to explain every single detail all the time. Having a diverse faculty and staff makes student feel more comfortable as it might be easier having a support system when one is needed.

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