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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

White privilege allows for misusing diverse spaces

Safe spaces for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students deserve respect

It was a Friday afternoon when I was making cards for the Jewish Relief Agency in the Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID). After a busy first week of classes, I wanted to unwind and hang out in a space that has always made me feel safe, comfortable and welcomed. I was enjoying my time as I drew flowers and wrote uplifting messages that would hopefully be read by families living in the Greater Philadelphia area.

It was a relaxing time until I started seeing groups of, primarily white, students entering the CID. At first, I thought they may be lost. Unfortunately, they weren’t. They were filing into the CID study room to drop off their belongings and prepare for their sorority rush event.

I sat there completely stunned at how my safe space was seen and being used as a storage closet. At this point, the CID was no longer feeling safe, comfortable or welcoming. Instead, I was starting to feel like an outcast in a space that was meant to serve LGBTQIA+ students and students of color, like me.

As more sorority students took up space within the already cramped CID, I knew it was time for me to leave.

There are a handful of other spaces at St. Joe’s where I feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed due to a lack of diversity, but to feel that way in the CID was something I never thought I’d experience.

White privilege didn’t deny the students from entering the CID, but white privilege would have certainly denied me from entering their space.

Greek life—specifically historically white fraternities and sororities—is built on white privilege, and St. Joe’s is no exception. In fact, the “Chapter Resources” for Greek life organizations on the Student Leadership and Activities website doesn’t even include an anti-racist or diversity statement, and it doesn’t include a policy on reporting racism.

These organizations are founded on white privilege, so it’s no surprise that they feel entitled enough to not have to address racism; similarly to how the sorority felt entitled to enter a space that promotes diversity, something that they don’t actively promote themselves.

The affinity groups within the CID work insanely hard to uphold and maintain the “diversity” that St. Joe’s advertises. As the president of the Asian Student Association and a member of the Latinx Student Association and SJU Pride, I feel completely disrespected by the level of ignorance that plagues Greek life organizations, especially in the instance of using the CID as a storage closet.

Last year, at one of the CID organization’s events, a student representing a St. Joe’s sorority said to a friend that she was “only attending the event for a point.” In other words, they would be rewarded by their sorority to attend a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) event in order to continue being a part of that sorority.

While attaching incentives to attending CID organization events may seem harmless, it isn’t. It’s another example of white privilege.

CID organizations don’t get brownie points for hosting events like SJU Pride’s “Speak Out” or publicly speaking out against anti-Asian racism. Advocacy and awareness reflect the vulnerability it takes for students of color and LGBT students to address societal issues that perpetuate racism and homophobia, like white privilege; and we never expect to be rewarded for this. In fact, our freedom and equality depends on advocating for ourselves.

When student organizations are interested in attending a CID organization’s event, they should do it because they have an anti-racist agenda, not because they want to be “rewarded” for supporting marginalized groups on campus.

When student organizations use the CID, they should use it with respect and care for the diversity work that goes on in that space.

While white privilege may grant white people access to spaces that most BIPOC and LGBT people will never be able to enter, I want to make it clear that white privilege will not grant white people the ability to misuse spaces meant to serve marginalized groups. It’s downright disrespectful.

The CID is open for all students on campus to use, but it functions as a safe space for marginalized students in particular. Students who occupy the CID regularly use it with intention and are mindful of the CID’s mission. Therefore, when non-marginalized groups use this space, they should also acknowledge it with an equal amount of respect.

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