A few days ago, I suddenly realized that I had never taken a French course at UNC with more than two other people of color.
I came to this realization when one of my teachers told the class that our Zoom room was a safe space to work on our feelings about the Derek Chauvin trial if anyone needed it. No one spoke.
It should be noted that our class does not have black students – the racial makeup of the class is made up of three Asians, including me, and about 15 whites.
While I appreciate our extraordinarily nice teacher who brought up the trial, the question arose for me: do we really need a safe space if everyone in space is already safe? And what about black students in other classes who may have been told the classroom is a safe space, but who don’t feel safe in the classroom?
In the other, smaller French course I’m taking this semester, each of my classmates is white. (My best friend, who, like me, is South Asian, withdrew from the class a few weeks after the semester started. But in the one session we were both present, our teacher confused us l ‘with each other. without saying that we are not alike.)
In this same class, we discuss religion and colonialism. This remains one of the few courses I have ever taken in the French department that explicitly discusses breed, which is not surprising given that the French are so reluctant to talk about breed that it is it is illegal for the government to collect race data. and the ethnicity of its citizens.
But the French department is not the only department to be confronted with this problem.
Many of the courses I took at UNC – mostly in social sciences, since that’s my specialty – are seriously lacking in diversity. Almost 60% of undergraduates at this university identify as white, and the share of white students is increasing in graduate and vocational schools at UNC.
In lectures, you could say that it doesn’t matter much. But in discussion-based lessons, the diversity of our classmates’ experiences is paramount.
The term “diversity of experience” is often implicitly juxtaposed with “racial diversity” as a complement or substitute: in other words, it’s OK if there isn’t a lot of racial diversity, as our students have a lot. diversity of experiences. But these two terms do not have to be mutually exclusive.
It is true that racial diversity is not everything. It is also essential that a student body is made up of people of various ages, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities and disabilities. But existence as a person of color is an experience that informs our worldview and therefore lends an important nuance to the conversations we have in discussion-based classes.
Of course, there is a fragile line between asking people from marginalized communities to share their personal experiences in the classroom and forcing these students to do emotional labor in explaining racism to their distraught peers.
It is uncomfortable and exhausting to constantly debate racism and colonization with whites, some of whom remain convinced that not all slaves were unhappy and that colonialism was a definite good. (These are the two opinions I heard expressed by different people in different classes.)
And it’s hard to convince students of color – especially black students – to share their experiences (or enroll in this school) when the University is not committed to ensuring the safety of those students.
When Silent Sam was still present on campus and protests against his continued presence caused armed white supremacists to come to campus and threaten protesters, the student body received no notification from Alert Carolina – despite the makes the system specifically aimed at educating students. on dangerous situations on campus. Weapons are prohibited on campus, but UNC police let the gunmen go with just a warning.
This is just one example of the UNC deprioritizing the safety of black students and other students of color. In order to feel safe in classroom discussions about race, students of color need to be safe on campus. Only then will class discussions truly embrace the diversity of experiences of our student body.
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