Walking the Talk

<p>Meghan Holt, DN Illustration</p>

Meghan Holt, DN Illustration

KwaTashea Marfo is a third-year public relations major and writes “Imperfectly Perfect” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

Embarking on the journey of higher education — a path often hailed as a pathway to enlightenment and success — entails a concealed objective. 

College is commonly referred to as the best years of your life — the period that molds and defines personal identity. Yet, few individuals are prepared for the various identity shifts encountered with each passing semester — akin to an ever-shifting paradigm.

For me, compounding these challenges is the pressure of navigating an environment initially not tailored to address the unique needs of a first-generation African American woman. 

This reality is underscored by data from Ball State University’s Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support, which revealed this demographic breakdown as of 2021: 75.6 percent of enrolled students were white, 8.8 percent were African American, 2.1 percent were Asian and 7.2 percent were Hispanic, among other racial groups.

Navigating life as a person of color (POC) within a predominantly white institution (PWI) is like immersing oneself in a film where the narrative unfolds in first-person perspective — a journey comprehended best by those who have lived it.

To those who haven’t, picture yourself as the protagonist on the silver screen of a theater, encircled by an audience of unfamiliar faces — faces with wandering eyes, hidden perspectives and enigmatic thoughts. 

There’s a certain discomfort in being a person of color at a PWI.

Amidst the academic landscape, I derive solace from the subtle gestures of camaraderie shared with fellow people of color on campus. These fleeting moments of understanding, expressed through nods and smiles, offer a silent affirmation of our shared identity and presence in an overwhelmingly white environment.

The limited representation of people of color in classes can be disheartening and create barriers to finding shared experiences with non-POC counterparts.

This narrative encapsulates the discomfort experienced by people of color navigating everyday life at a PWI. Within the discourse of diversity, equity and inclusion, it often feels as though we stand alone as sole participants of conversations, bearing the weight of making representation matter with the obligation to signify its importance to our counterparts. 

The lack of representation in classrooms serves as a stark reminder for students of color of the barriers that limit our ability to connect with peers who do not share our lived experiences. This responsibility extends beyond academic settings, encompassing interactions within the broader university community as well.

Ball State University’s Inclusive Plan states a commitment “to removing barriers to inclusion and fostering a climate where students, staff and faculty can thrive.” To fulfill this commitment, Ball State has implemented initiatives, such as the Multicultural Center, and supports student-based organizations, including the “big four”: the Black Student Association (BSA), Latinx Student Union (LSU), Asian Student Union (ASU) and Spectrum, Ball State’s oldest LGBTQ+ organization on campus. 

While these organizations are frequently recognized for promoting diversity, it is essential to recognize they do not encompass the entirety of diverse experiences on campus. 

Recognizing this need for broader representation, many students of color have taken the initiative to establish their own student organizations. Groups such as Black Women’s Voice (BWV), Mentally Empowered Men (MEM), and Men and Women of Color (MWOC) offer safe spaces tailored to address the intersectional identities of their members. 

These are just many of the few organizations students have organized and founded as a means to fill the void from the lack of resources and representation the university provides.

While providing students with the creative freedom to establish their own safe spaces for discussions and networking can be beneficial, it prompts reflection on the institutional environment. Why is it incumbent upon students of color to seek comfort beyond the confines of academic settings? 

Whether students assume leadership roles on the executive boards of these organizations or simply seek membership, the expectation for students to construct a supportive and nurturing environment for themselves is apparent.

Considering the substantial financial investment made through tuition, program fees and additional expenses, it is reasonable to expect that the university’s efforts to promote inclusivity align directly with the needs of its diverse student body. However, the university’s inclusive initiatives must prioritize the genuine needs of students rather than focusing on perceived standards.

Why is there a mandatory requirement for physical education and fine arts credits, yet classes in multiculturalism, women and gender studies, and African American studies are optional? 

Ball State can demonstrate genuine support for its minority population by implementing tangible initiatives that address the specific needs of diverse students. This could involve revising the curriculum to include mandatory courses on multiculturalism, women and gender studies, and African American studies, and ensuring all students engage with these important topics. 

Ball State professes a commitment to promoting diversity, yet much of the promotional material features students of color in a manner that can be perceived as tokenism. These students are often highlighted during relevant holidays — like MLK Day, Black History Month or even Hispanic Heritage Month — or celebrated for their achievements, such as making the dean’s list or graduating. More often than not, it’s for the sake of showcasing their ability to fulfill their diversity quota that showcases they “care” about representation and visibility. 

What’s more, I wholeheartedly believe if Ball State wanted to make a genuine effort to promote diversity, its efforts would lie beyond promotional efforts. 

Their social media pages, such as their Instagram account @ballstateuniversity, should highlight the good, the bad and everything else to acknowledge the imperfection of its inclusivity plan. They should show that they are readily working to show a genuine commitment to the students to generate these changes.

As a public relations major, I understand the need to maintain a reputable and clean image. However, for incoming students of color, having readily available resources from the university and the curriculum to support them throughout their collegiate experience is what provides reassurance that Ball State is the right choice. 

The most important part of creating change is having those difficult conversations and taking the necessary actions to promote it.

Additionally, promotional efforts should go beyond tokenism and instead highlight the diverse experiences and contributions of all students throughout the academic year, not just during designated times or for certain achievements. 

This transparency can help students feel supported and valued, knowing the institution is actively working to address their needs. 

Promoting genuine diversity and inclusion requires more than just symbolic gestures. It necessitates concrete actions, open dialogue and a willingness to adapt and evolve. By engaging in difficult conversations and implementing meaningful changes, Ball State can work towards creating a more equitable and supportive college life for every student on campus.

Contact KwaTashea Marfo with comments at kwatashea.marfo@bsu.edu or on X @mkwatashea.


More from The Daily

This Week's Digital Issue

Loading Recent Classifieds...