As I reluctantly embrace my last semester at Miami University, I find myself reflecting on the past three years. When I arrived to the cobbled roads and red bricks, I was bitter and resentful. My first college choice was Lehigh University, but they were stingy with their scholarship money. I was so ready to climb the hills of Bethlehem, Pa. in a crowd of people whom I believed shared my academic drive and stake in diversity. But things never go as planned and in the fall of 2008, my parents dropped me off in front of Clawson Hall promising that this was my best fit. It’s not often that I admit to my parents’ wisdom but now I can bear their incessant “I told you so.” They were right; Miami opened so many doors for me and has given me my most cherished memories. At the same time, Miami has failed me. As a woman of color, everyday I’m reminded that my race brought me here.
I will admit that I checked “African American” on all of my college applications because it is a known fact that American universities seek racial diversity. My heritage is an instant win for any university to acquire my application. On paper, all I am is a black girl with a high GPA, and I accepted this because it guaranteed my spot. But I was naïve when I made those senseless decisions. I had no idea that I would forever face the draining task of explaining my worth beyond the color of my skin. You see, colleges are eager for black women like me, who were extremely vocal and active in all high school activities. College admissions directors praised my achievements and I embraced each accolade without any hesitation. But now, I wish that I never checked that race box. Perhaps, I wouldn’t be here today? If I didn’t check that box, I wouldn’t have to defend my right to be studying at Miami. I wouldn’t receive the nickname “Token” from ignorant peers. Moreover, I wouldn’t have to argue with friends about the “injustice” of the college admission process. Instead, I could honestly say that I arrived to Miami based on merit not my skin color.
I recently read a riveting piece, “I’m Just A Person,” by 16-year-old Charissa Newkirk posted in the high school section of The Huffington Post. Newkirk is a junior embarking on the tedious task of applying to colleges. What she found is what I wish I realized when I was her age. In her blog post, she expresses her disgruntlement about colleges looking at her as an asset because of her race. She says, “Why can’t I be judged as a person? I want to be known for my hard work and dedication, not being smart ‘for a black person.’ Being a certain race is a coincidence; it is chance (I would know, I just studied genetics in [Advanced Placement] Biology). We don’t choose our color … Does being white mean that you get the short end of the stick when it comes to college?”
I agree with Newkirk but I want to make the point that diversity is extremely important. Since being at Miami, I’ve witnessed a huge amount of racial ignorance. For many of my classmates, I am the first student of color they have encountered in a classroom. To them, I am the “token” minority and the chosen one to be the voice from my race. In my opinion, it is important for students to be exposed to a vast number of ethnicities because eventually they will be working in the world shaping policies. Exposure to diversity needs to be celebrated but not at the expense of a racial group feeling isolated because they appease a university’s diversity quota.
Why should the color of my skin determine my acceptance into a university? Moreover, why should I feel like my academic accomplishments are better because I happen to have more melanin in my skin than the student next to me? This is a case of academic racism, where the color of one’s skin determines the acceptance into the academic world. When I leave Miami, I wish that I had the confidence to say that my race is secondary to my intellect. But I know this is cyclic. Now that I’m applying to jobs, I know that in an interview my race will be a determining factor. I understand the claim that universities and the workplace need to resemble a non-homogenous world, but I am more than just a “black person” to be added to the university’s diversity statistics. Although I offer a unique outlook on life because of my heritage, I don’t want to be forced into that “African American” box with all of its stigmas that follow. I am forcibly separated, no wonder I view the world differently than my Caucasian classmates. While Miami tries to recruit more multicultural students, I want to challenge them to remember that even though multiple races enhance pamphlets, newsletters and statistical data, a valuable education is only achieved when each student feels comfortable in his or her own skin.