When I listen to feedback from students of color at College of DuPage about their sense of belonging on campus, too many talk about feeling disconnected from our community.
My first reaction is to wonder what this is about. On the surface, our student body reflects an array of races, religions and cultures. We have departments dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. Student groups such as the Black Student Alliance, the Latino Ethnic Awareness Association and others promote diversity and awareness and represent as many students as possible, often hosting outreach events to inform the College community about who they are.
The College continues to address equity and inclusion. Most recently, the Board of Trustees approved a new equity plan—one that has been in the works since last year—and added equity as a new core value for the College.
Even with this level of activity, we still have students who do not see themselves reflected every day on campus. Whether it is in class or socially, they do not feel like they are completely welcomed or belong in the COD community.
Clearly, what we have done so far is not enough. If the ongoing protests across the nation have taught us anything, people of all backgrounds have something to say about the mistreatment of those who are not always viewed as equals in our society.
And we need to listen.
That is why the College is spearheading Chaps Unite Against Racism. This initiative is a beginning, a chance to have honest dialogue about belonging, how it feels to experience racism and what must be done to combat it.
This issue is a personal one for me. As a woman of color, who grew up in Downers Grove, I was not part of the majority culture. Today, when I tell people where I was raised, I am fascinated that many are surprised. Why should they be? The surprise speaks to a potential perspective of who grows up in Downers Grove. This one reaction speaks volumes about the perception of race and integration in DuPage County.
The changing demographics of DuPage County show us a very different landscape from what once existed. Between 2000 and 2015, the minority population nearly doubled, from 17 percent to 32 percent. I expect this year’s census to reflect another increase. At COD, students of color represent 47 percent.
If our students feel disconnected from the campus community, then something is not working. We must get to the heart and soul of the problem and ask ourselves important questions: Do we view everyone equally inside and outside the classroom? Does everyone have the same opportunities? Do we treat everyone with the same dignity and respect? Do we make everyone feel like they belong?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then as an institution we need to dismantle what is getting in the way of all students feeling equal to the ones sitting next to them. We need to have frank conversations about what we teach about diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to fix not only the overt issues but also the micro-aggressions that inflict the damage of racism daily.
Teaching and learning are the foundational pillars of higher education. One of the goals of education is to challenge people to think critically. By doing so we can challenge our assumptions, which can lead to changing how we think and how we act.
We cannot have a true community if racism exists. We must build a new table where everyone has a seat and can learn and work together. We must make everyone feel appreciated, welcomed and valued.
Chaps Unite Against Racism will open the conversation on how we see ourselves as members of our community. I want this to be an honest dialogue about belonging, how we treat one another and how we feel we are being treated.
This will not be easy. It will be uncomfortable. And some may still feel this is not enough. But we need a starting point. If the College is to be the first choice for everyone, then everyone needs to see themselves as equal at College of DuPage.
Speak your truth. We are here to listen—and to learn. If we can do this, we can fight racism and be stronger together.