Racism And Prejudice: Women Of Color On Campus
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Racism And Prejudice: Women Of Color On Campus

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Racism And Prejudice: Women Of Color On Campus
Sami Holzman

The stares, the comments, the jokes, the stereotypes, the constant judging. Discrimination against minority students is a huge problem. Several college students, specifically at Ashland University, have felt racism and prejudice in one way or another.

Freshman Aliyah Beacham is one of the various college students who has faced discrimination throughout her life. She noted how this has affected her throughout the years:

“In the past, people kind of treated me like a pet monkey or something. They would want to touch my hair all the time. And they were always expecting me to fail. I wouldn’t even get a chance to prove myself,” she said. “It was like ‘Oh, you know complicated words, good for you, I’m glad you learned something.’ And people automatically assume that I don’t have a father, even in Ashland. They see a picture of us and we look just alike and they think he’s not in my life.”

Additionally, she described an experience she faced in her freshman success seminar:

“There was this kid who was convinced he was black. He was not black, he was a blue-eyed, blonde haired white boy. He didn’t really expect anything of me and he constantly undermined my intelligence. He would say, ‘Oh girl, why are you in college? You know you’re just going to be ratchet.’ Basically, he just assumed that my whole life centered around being ratchet, but in reality, I’ve had a 4.0 GPA my entire highschool career, I’ve gotten all these awards, I’ve left the country, I’ve been doing all this stuff and he just undermines me in five seconds. It’s annoying.”

Beacham says one of the things that bothers her the most is when an individual is ashamed of their race. She also stated how one should feel confident and secure about themselves, no matter what:

“Yes, the road is harder sometimes. Yes, you have to do things to prove yourself and you shouldn’t have to prove yourself to anybody. But if you choose to be ashamed, you’re missing out on Diversity on Campus, the best club that the world has to offer. You’re signing out of it because you want to be a part of something else that was never made for you.”

Ashlee Freeman, a freshman studying Communications. She, along with other minority students, continue to receive stares and comments because of her race:

“It’s hard for people to relate to if you’re not a part of the African American culture. I gave a speech on racism in my communications class, and I’m the only black person there. I’ll never when forget someone said to me afterwards, ‘Why should we have a black history month?’ And I said, ‘Why shouldn’t we have a black history month?’ The cliche answer is that you guys get 11 months out of the year and we only get one. Black history is American history.”

Freeman said the top two stereotypes about African-Americans is that they are uneducated or ghetto:

“What is black? What is white? No one can really define that. What is being black? Uneducated? Ghetto? The struggle? Not at all. But when did ‘talking white’ become talking right? Just because I can form a grammatically correct sentence doesn't mean I’m white. Technically we’re all Africans. I’m black, you’re black, we all come from the same place. The only reason you guys have lighter skin is migration. It just blows my mind that people can look down on me because I have darker skin.”

Freeman described how growing up, her parents taught her to never use the “race card.” She was told, even from a young age, to be prepared for racism and prejudice:

“People always say don’t use where you came from as a crutch as to why you can’t be as successful as somebody else. So basically, that crutch is our skin color. For us to graduate and go to college is like some big hurrah but if a Caucasian would graduate, it’s just another one down the line.”

Octavia Stokes, a freshman Health and Risk Communication major, explains that there is a minority no matter where you go in the world. She also discussed how individuals should not let their race define who they are as people:

“My parents were very educated and they talked to us like we were educated. People would say to me, ‘Octavia, you need to act your color. Stop trying to act white.’ Like how do you act a color? If I wanted to act red, would I be mad all of a sudden? If I wanted to act yellow would I be happy all the time? You can’t act a color.”

Stokes also described how most people think discrimination only exists in terms of a black person versus a white person, although unfortunately, that is not the case in today’s society:

“You can have discrimination in your family. People don’t understand that some of the things they say are discriminatory and hurtful to us. People on my dad’s side of the family will tell me I can’t date white guys. I don’t know if it’s because they have that whole ‘slave mentality,’ but this is not those times anymore.”

Destini Barbee, a sophomore Forensic Chemistry major, confessed that she too has felt prejudice on Ashland’s campus:

I have been followed in stores multiple times, with the assumption that I’m going to steal something. Or I’ve had people in stores ignore me when I was asking for help. One time my roommate and I were walking to Taco Bell and we were ‘thrown up’ at. This guy rolled down his window and made the noise at us.”

Keirra Walker is a junior studying Exercise Science. Her experiences with discrimination and realizing she was different have started since she was a child:

“Being younger, with all the Barbie dolls and stuff, I noticed there wasn't a darker Barbie. And so I said to myself, ‘I don't want to be this color anymore.’ So I would take a bath and scrub really really hard on my skin.”

Walker and several other students have wanted to create a black sorority at Ashland University in the past, but were told the chapter would not be sustainable due to the limited amount of black women on campus:

“I didn't really feel any discrimination throughout my life until I came here. It was a really big culture shock. Everyone stared at me like I was a tiny toy or like they were scared of us,” Walker said. “On this campus, we’re held to a lower status, even lower than the white girls and black guys. People still look at us like we’re the outcast.”

Kailah Sanders, a junior Graphic Design major, has noticed and felt the ‘culture shock’ of being an African-American in a small town like Ashland:

“I’ve felt more discrimination here than anywhere else. A lot of people say it’s because of the small towns most of the time, but I really think it’s because of the small atmosphere. A lot of people aren’t used to seeing people of color or the diversity and you can tell.”

Sanders sometimes feels unwelcome, as people make it a point to go out of their way to make her feel like so:

“There’s people here who drive around with the confederate flags and they literally death-stared us one day. It’s not the most welcoming thing to see when you first get on campus.”

The discrimination is not just limited to the African American students on campus. Ariana Ortiz, a junior studying to be an Intervention Specialist, is one of the few Hispanic women at Ashland:

“People have made comments, or they’re shocked that I’m a Hispanic girl going through a 4-year program in school. They’ll say ‘Oh I’m surprised you don't have a kid by now,’ like what does that mean?”

Ortiz also says her race plays a big part in her life and in her decision to attend Ashland University:

“If I wasn't Hispanic, I probably wouldn't have met Jonathan (Locust). He's given me so many opportunities. I wouldn't have had the chance to volunteer with young students who are hispanic and don't get the help that they need.”

Luz Dominguez is a freshman Forensic Biology major. She describes how she grew up in a Hispanic home but her father is Pakistani and Russian:

“I’ll get a mix of middle-eastern jokes and hispanic jokes because of it.”

She acknowledged how she was treated differently by another student:

“One time, this kid asked me what I was majoring in and I told him I was minoring in Spanish. He says, ‘Well, this is America and we only speak English here.’ I told him I would give him a map for Christmas because Puerto Rico is a part of the U.S.”

Dominguez says her family grew up living in ‘the struggle,’ and everyone around her understood each other. This environment is drastically different than how Ashland is ultimately represented:

“When I’m here, no one really gets it. I was never exposed to a high level of discrimination. Here, it’s more like an awe thing, like they’re at the Cleveland Zoo and they’ve never seen a toucan or a penguin before. When I tell people here my story, that my mom had me at a really really young age and I’m the first one in my family to go off to college, I’ll get a lot of questions like ‘How did you even afford Ashland?’ or ‘How did you get into college?’'

Gaby Vitel, a senior studying Fashion Merchandising. She is half Panamanian and half Italian. She, unlike other students, has not felt a high level of direct discrimination throughout her college years:

“I’ve been very fortunate, because I know that there are some students, kids our age, that have experienced the negative effects of being a minority. Whether it's your sexual orientation, your gender, your race, when you wear that on your sleeve, people can sense that. That’s why I try to be a blank slate all the time.”

“Growing up, all my friends were white, and that sounds kind of funny. People of certain ethnicities tend to stick together and that was not me--I was the total opposite. I was always considered the ‘ethnic one’ and I’m okay with that. That’s where I kind of felt the discrimination, because I was the one that’s different.”

What can we gain from this? American colleges and universities are more diverse than ever, yet these problems happen regularly to minority students. Colleges and universities around the country are attempting to change the way racial discrimination is approached. AU student organizations such as Diversity on Campus (soon to be Black Student Alliance), Pathways, and Unidad, help bring students of all nationalities and backgrounds together with forums and activities to talk about these issues.

Despite the struggles and discrimination these women have faced, they are proud of their race and cultural background. It has made them who they are.

Ortiz is 100 percent Hispanic and says she is heavily involved in her culture:

“My whole family is crazy and loud. Religion is a big thing; it’s just a different lifestyle. I’m very proud to be Hispanic. People will tell me I look Greek or even Italian and I love telling them that they’re wrong: I’m Hispanic. It’s a huge part of me.”

Walker says being African-American is one of the best things she can be:

We’re strong, beautiful, smart, and we fight a lifetime to get through all the different adverse effects and we always remember that and come out on top. I’m going to be the best I can, I’m going to strive to be great, I feel like it's one of the best feelings.”

Sanders says despite the discrimination, she still feels proud:

“I tell people all the time that I’m proud. I love where I come from. Yeah, it does kind of set you back, but in my mind it makes you stronger. In my mind, it's a push to do better and prove to others that I can go above and beyond my stereotypical stigma.”

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