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November 16, 2015

More than a checkbox

Clubs like the Leaders of Color Initiative create a safe space for students of color.

Even though U.S. colleges and universities are increasing their racial and ethnic diversity, we are currently observing incidents of bias, racism, and discrimination at Ithaca College, UCLA, the University of Missouri, Yale University, and other college and universities across the nation. These situations hit too close to home; as upperclassmen, we have seen our share of microaggressions, offensive costumes and parties, whitesplaining, and administrators defending “freedom of expression.” As a result, many students of color at the University of Chicago feel uncomfortable, unsafe, undervalued, and unheard.

We have expressed ourselves through articles like this, protests and rallies like the one hosted by the Organization of Black Students this past Friday, November 13, and meetings with high-ranking administrators. These actions serve to show fellow students and administrators that our feelings are real and need to be taken seriously. This is not a matter of wanting to be “coddled.” When a student of color tells an RA that a housemate used a racial slur or meets with a dean to question the lack of diversity within required readings for a course or the entire department, that student is not asking to be “coddled.” We are seeking representation, equity, a sign that we are not just a checkbox or achievement for the University—all of this is far from “coddling.” There are very few faculty members of color, there has yet to be a campus climate survey on diversity and inclusion, and incidents of bias continue to happen. And yet, at every turn our complaints and requests are met with disdain and apprehension. This campus continues to promote the silencing of minority voices.  

Many students of color at the University have spent hours attending events, sitting on advisory boards and councils, educating our friends, and standing in solidarity with other students of color at schools across the country. Yet we still do not feel comfortable and welcome on this campus and flock to places like the Center of Identity + Inclusion for conversations on diversity. The result is that groups and spaces on campus that would benefit from racial diversity, like the Institute of Politics, have very little of it. In order to address the lack of presence and visibility students of color experience here, last year, three students of color, Jaime Sanchez, Nina Katemauswa, and Anthony Downer, partnered with the Institute of Politics to found the Leaders of Color (LOC) Initiative. In addition to bringing students of color to the Institute, the initiative prepares them for student leadership positions throughout the University, increasing visibility and opportunity. The cohort of 30 first- and second-years participates in two quarters of workshops and other events, including leadership development, community building, and discussions with a focus on visibility and participation within our community. LOC also discusses dealing with microaggressions, navigating white spaces, affirmative action, and other topics related to the success of people of color.

It should not be our job to create more safe spaces for students of color, but due to the University’s inaction, the burden has again fallen on our shoulders. The current campus climate has created a divided demographic that does not value students of color. In response, the Leaders of Color Initiative and other organizations are building the largest network of students of color that will change our campus for the better. In order for this University to go above and beyond the checkbox of diversity, it must join the efforts of students to make all spaces safe and inclusive.

Anthony Downer is a third-year in the College majoring in political science.

Justin Vargas is a third-year in the College majoring in history.

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