Critical Mass or Culturally Inclusive
Working at a predominantly white institution (PWI), the conversation of how to increase diversity is at the center of our planning. But, I’m often asked, “What do we do?” In my opinion, there are 2 camps: those who believe that we must do all we can to obtain a critical mass, or a ‘magic number’ where students of color no longer are marginalized due to their numbers; and there are those who believe we must first create an environment that is welcoming and ready for the group of students (in our case, students of color).
I belong to the second camp… and often advocate for the need to change and transform our current community.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Stonehill shares characteristics that many colleges our size, location, identity, etc., share. We are not unique. Unfortunately, not at all. We are one of many, many colleges that struggle to diversify the student body, administration and faculty.
I’m often asked to find ways to increase the number of students of color at Stonehill. I do it. But, I do it with hesitation. While I’d love to see more faculty, staff and students of color here, I know what they will face. I know what they’re up against.
For the most part, the community is interested in diversity. They welcome the opportunity to work with diverse groups of people. They realize that we are not getting a rich and dynamic conversation without diversity. Diversity is a top priority in our strategic plan, in our office’s mission, in the mission inherent in our Catholic identity. While we welcome the opportunity, do we welcome the students?
The “critical mass” camp asserts that we must have more people of color here in order to begin the conversations that will transform our community. That, without a critical mass, students will always feel like “tokens”. Without a critical mass, students will always be singled out to speak for the entire community.
As you can tell, I believe that if we bring a critical mass to an environment that isn’t culturally inclusive, we’re asking for trouble. We can expect even more stereotypes. We can expect even more culturally insensitive comments in classrooms.
I equate this example to the rickety porch at my dad’s house – it was built years ago, has been greatly weathered, and lacks sturdy posts. Some of the floor boards have nails sticking out. Back when it was built, that porch was the best spot in the house. We ate on a big picnic table on the porch, hung out with our friends on that porch, and had some of the best conversations out on that porch. Sometime, about 5-7 years ago, we all just stopped going out onto the porch. It began to feel weak. It began to feel unsafe. And, now, no ones goes near it. We are afraid that, if someone steps on it, it will collapse. We are often afraid that it will crumble underneath us. And, while the porch could certainly hold about 2-3 people, we would never even think about putting more than that on there.
The rickety porch, to me, represents a culturally insensitive environment. The group of people is my critical mass. Before I invite a critical mass, or guests to my dad’s house, over, I would want to reinforce the community — reinforce that porch.
Ring in. What are your thoughts? Culturally sensitive environment …. critical mass…?