In Atlanta, Georgia last Tuesday, the United States witnessed a racially charged massacre resulting in the death of eight citizens, six of whom were Asian Americans. Amongst the heightened xenophobic rhetoric directed towards Asian Americans and the Pacific Islander community, many hang their head in mourning for this great loss.
Similar grieving periods, however, have been felt for years as many minority communities continuously watch their loved ones crush under the weight of a systematically racist country that has been upheld since the founding era. In efforts to combat a deeply ingrained history of racism, local communities establish efforts to provide an equitable environment for people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities. Diversity and inclusion are often used interchangeably, but these are two words of completely separate significance.
Saint Anselm College prides itself upon a welcoming community, but for a predominately white institution, that claim is more difficult than some may imagine. Many faculty members and students from Saint Anselm acknowledged that the college could improve upon its inclusivity. Some students addressed that the school has made progress towards establishing a more diverse institution, however diversity does not result in inclusivity.
The Saint Anselm College website takes their definition from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, stating that inclusivity is “The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity—in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities… in ways that increase awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions.”
From the student’s perspective many desire this engagement with diversity in the school’s curriculum, some even question whether education centered around racially diverse perspectives should be mandatory for all students. For Wayne Currie, the Director for the Center for Intercultural Learning and Inclusion, a mandatory step the college should take in harboring a more inclusive environment is to require diversity training in the faulty hiring process. Mr. Currie reveals that other universities require such training, however at Saint Anselm, there is no such requisite.
Being a Benedictine Catholic university, many may come to the Saint Anselm campus with a preconceived perspective based upon Catholic or conservative stereotypes. Director of Campus Ministry, Susan Gabert, however, alleviates these notions stating, “who we are is not a barrier to inclusivity.”
Gabert identifies that the Catholic and Benedictine identity is not in conflict with inclusion, but instead an identity that focuses upon respect and love for all. Many staff members acknowledge and respect the Catholic values of understanding diverse perspectives; knowing that humans learn best through the engagement with diverse experiences. Many students and faculty alike would recognize and reap the benefits from including more diverse perspective in Saint Anselm courses, in addition to the variety of diversity classes that the school already has to offer. The Saint Anselm community takes responsibility in preparing students to become more empathetic and compassionate, and views that this type of learning starts in the classroom.
For students like Senior, Grace Wirein, however, the school requires more than just a culture of kindness. As a student of color at this college, Grace describes how kindness can be taken too far with regards to racial inclusivity and may result in students not acknowledging race related issues, whether that be on campus or off.
Wirein states, “I think it’s better to be uncomfortable and informed and educating yourself on important topics than to stay in a ‘bubble’ and remain blissfully ignorant on these deep-rooted issues.” These deep-rooted issues are experiences Grace and many other students of color have endured, and thus demand a campus environment to which they not only feel acknowledged but welcomed as well.
The world events that happen off campus often impact the environment on campus as well, which is why there is vital importance in harboring a community that welcomes students of all backgrounds and experiences. Like all predominantly white institutions, Saint Anselm has, and always will have, room for improvement. But it appears that the college is already in the right direction.