Monday, November 22, 2010

Diversity is Awesome!

When I was in high school in South East LA, I worked with a youth group called Youth for Environmental Justice. Unfortunately my hometown is more known for high school drop outs than high school graduates accepted into institutions of higher education. With this in mind, the group headed up to the bay area for the very first college trip sponsored by the group. Today they arrived in Berkeley and they asked me to give them a tour. Since I know the organization well I knew that I had to show the youth a different side of the university. I tried to emphasize the fact that life in college isn't always easy for students of color while still encouraging them to apply and attend. We spent a lot of time talking about diversity and what it means on a college campus especially after the end of affirmative action. They offered me a ride home to LA so I rolled with them on the rest of the tour.

We visited Santa Clara University, which is known for supporting undocumented students. This was an important stop for the group because a large number of folks are undocumented. Their contact at the university was a 3rd year student who received full funding as an undocumented student. The organizers expected a great tour which would emphasize some of the same points I did in Berkeley. Instead he focused a lot on pointing out how great the Missions of California are, since there is one located on campus. He also felt really uncomfortable when folks asked him about "racial tensions" on campus. This was a surprise to a lot of us since he said he was the cochair of MEChA on campus. The majority of the folks on the tour are Latin@ and working class, but they are also conscious youngsters who are not afraid to call out a college student on his blind spots. We also stopped by Stanford where a random guy told us that diversity on that campus was AWESOME!

This tour really made me think about identity politics and the power of institutions to force people of color to assimilate in an attempt to increase their social mobility.

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