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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Racial isolation at St. Joe’s


Prioritizing comfort for students of color is necessary

There is no way to fully and completely articulate the isolation that I have felt over the four years I have been at St. Joe’s. Racially speaking, it has been a hard four years where I’ve dealt with a lot of learning and unlearning in regards to race.

I came to St. Joe’s with a pretty muddy sense of self regarding my race. Of course, I look very black, but up until stepping foot on campus I wasn’t preoccupied with my race. I was never confronted consistently by the stark difference between me and my classmates.

I’ve always gone to predominantly white schools, and beyond the vague microaggressions in relation to my appearance, I never really thought about race. St. Joe’s changed that.

My growing social consciousness was inevitable in college and directly intersected with my almost revelatory coming-to-Jesus moment, that St. Joe’s is really white.

I have never been to a school that exuded such whiteness and privilege. Don’t get me wrong, prior to this I went to private school in Washington, D.C. so I have seen it first hand, not to say that I am either wealthy or privileged. (I feel like I have to disclose that.) But I had never felt socially isolated before.

I feel that way at St. Joe’s. And this isn’t an indictment completely of the university, but the majority of white students that go here come from areas where race and racism is only talked about in the context of American slavery, the genocide of American Indians and the Chinese Exclusion Act, if that.

So I would say a majority of St. Joe’s students aren’t equipped with the racial intuitiveness that one might cultivate at a school that is more racially diverse or a school whose mission is to expose students to inclusion and
diversity in intentional ways.

This isn’t to say that the majority of students at St. Joe’s are racist. By no means do I want to label a majority of the university in that way, but I do want to label them as racially ignorant, and this goes for certain faculty and staff members as well.

There seems to be no intentionality on the part of St. Joe’s at the present moment to be the inclusive and diverse space that it claims to be. It fosters a racially self-isolating culture because many students, faculty and staff refuse to have conversations about race, and thus do not learn how to practice racial understanding.

St. Joe’s is an environment that cultivates a feeling of racial isolation, and I’m not the only person of color that feels this way.

I’ve spoken about this before, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to white students when I say that I’ve spent the past four years isolated from a community that I’ve wanted to be a part of based solely on the fact that I might be the only one that looks like me in a room. With that in mind, no white person in that room has the racial acumen to acknowledge the fact that I’m the only black face in the room.

It isn’t even this kind of passive racial ignorance that students of color, black students and specifically myself have to deal with; there is active racial ignorance as well.

My first semester at St. Joe’s, I took an education course. We were learning about how to teach in schools in different areas. We talked about how race and ethnicity play into social dynamics in the classroom. All fair and genuinely correct. That was until we talked about code switching.

My professor turns to me, the only black person in the room, and asks me if I speak Ebonics. Now besides the fact that “Ebonics” is an outdated term to refer to African American Vernacular English (AAVE), it is also a portmanteau of ebony and phonics. It was a racially ignorant comment that a 17-year-old Dominique was not even remotely equipped to answer.

I had never felt so small in my life. I felt as though I was being totally and completely singled out, which I was, and it hurt.

To have a professor turn to you and basically insinuate that because you are black, you can speak “Ebonics,” or there is a presumption that you should. This is especially hurtful because of the stigma surrounding “Ebonics.” Everyone in the room, student wise, knew that this professor made a serious and egregious faux pas, but the professor continued on with the lesson nonetheless.

This professor didn’t know the kind of discomfort they had placed on me in that moment, and from that moment forward, I’ve felt nothing but isolation.

St. Joe’s is an environment that cultivates a feeling of racial isolation, and I’m not the only person of color that feels this way.

This isn’t a simple problem, and it doesn’t have a simple solution. A multitude of steps have to be taken before St. Joe’s can feel comfortable for all students of color.

I think the first thing though, before anything else can be done, has to be an intentional effort to chip away at racial ignorance through mandatory training on diversity, or even a General Education Program (GEP) course that is tailored solely to the discussion of race.

These suggestions may sound familiar as though they have been made before, but that’s because they have. Until these suggestions are met with actual consideration and implementation, nothing will change.

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  • R

    Ray O’BrienApr 26, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    St. Joe’s has been like this for too long. As a student, I remember (73-77) there being a very small population of SOC. I always felt these students were isolated. Some were friends. Remember “joining” BAS to better understand how it was to fit in on campus. They were very tolerant of my curiosity but called me out when needed. The admin needs to find a way to start a conversation to address this. Looks like you and others are trying that here. It has to come from the students. It might need to be messy. Allowing comfortability will not bring progress.