By Kris Rhim
Now in my third year at Springfield College, I’ve gotten used to the frustrations that come with being a person of color on this campus. I know that in most of my classes I will be looked at unfairly to represent the entire black community on certain topics, looked at awkwardly when we discuss black history, and have my white friends talk to me using slang that they don’t use elsewhere. They’ll say things such as, “What’s up dawg” because they assume that’s how people of color talk, among many other things.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights, at Students Society for Bridging Diversity (SSBD) or Men of Excellence (MOE) clubs, I can express my frustrations, laugh about them, or be angry about them with people who share my lived experiences.
For an hour or two, twice a week, these clubs give me an opportunity to let my figurative hair down and be my full, authentic self. While I love being in these environments at club meetings — and appreciate the safe space they give me — I would love to see more of my white friends in this environment. The discussions we have and the experiences we share would help them learn about a different Springfield College experience that they may not even realize exists.
These clubs aren’t exclusively for black and brown people, but it certainly feels that way. In the past, when I have asked my white friends to come to one of these clubs, their body language often changes and they’ll ask, “Isn’t that club only for black people?”
After frequently hearing this question it started to frustrate and bother me.
If this is how my white friends feel when they see just five to 10 people of color congregated in one space; how do they think we feel every day?
Imagine if I (communications/sports journalism major) didn’t join any of the campus media outlets because all of the students and advisors in these clubs are white. I wouldn’t ever be able to perfect my craft, earn internships and get a job when I graduate.
Unlike my white peers, I can’t simply avoid being in the minority. When I am at track practice, in class, or even at parties; I am surrounded by a sea of white faces. In my fifth semester on campus, my African American literature class — taught by a white professor — has been the only course I’ve been in where there have been more than three people of color.
In this African American literature class, the room quickly became segregated. Six of the seven students of color sat on the left side of the classroom on the first day, then the remaining student on the “White side” of the class moved to the “Black side.”
At Springfield College, we pride ourselves on diversity and inclusion. When the college hired Calvin Hill as the Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement four years ago, it showed the commitment that the institution has to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment that they preach about.
Although Springfield has began taking steps in the right direction, it hasn’t always been this way.
In 1969 and 1970 racial tensions on campus led to- amongst other things- takeovers of both the Administration building and Massasoit Hall, the arrests of almost four dozen students, and a four-day hunger strike.
Just three years ago in 2016, senior Elijah Ryan walked through campus with a sign that read, “Springfield College doesn’t care about black people.” In his call for action he said, “Unlike most of our white counterparts, Springfield College is not ‘the time of our lives.’ For many of us who endured the Springfield College experience long enough to graduate, we did so with much suffering. For us ‘proud alumni’ the suffering is over, and the end is here. There’s no strings still attaching us to SC and now we are free. Free to never return to a place that doesn’t care about us.”
Obviously the issue of black and brown students not feeling comfortable won’t be fixed by students simply coming to SSBD or MOE meetings. If Springfield ever has a chance at becoming that welcoming and inclusive environment it strives to be, then our students and faculty must step out of their comfort zone and embrace different perspectives.
If clubs just aren’t your thing, go to events offered by the office of inclusion and community engagement, such as, “I’m a good person! Isn’t that enough?” in which Debbie Irving — the author of Waking up White — talks about her racial journey as a white woman. Take classes like foundations of multicultural education, not just because it fulfills a general education requirement, but because it challenges our belief systems and socialization.
For black and brown students on the Springfield College campus, we learn to mold ourselves to fit in with the majority, and are forced to become comfortable with being uncomfortable — or risk not being successful.
Photo Courtesy Kris Rhim and Tyler Merullo