Wash. U. doesn’t care about minority students
Happy Black History Month! How do you celebrate? For me, I use the shortest month of the year to make people have uncomfortable conversations about race and how they might have contributed to the ongoing oppression of minorities. Today, I want to illuminate how Washington University does not truly care about the health, success or livelihood of its minority students.
Wash. U. describes “underrepresented” students as those identifying as Black, Hispanic and Native American/Pacific Islander. According to the most recent data published by the University, the underrepresented population stands today at 18.39 percent, but some students are undoubtedly double-counted because many students identify with multiple groups. Double-counting and adding international students to its diversity ranks is a great way to have positive publicity without actually making a difference.
An important factor in the life of a minority student here is money. Despite all the seemingly helpful chatter about socioeconomic diversity, the University ranks as one of the worst among all universities nationwide. The median family income for students is $272,000—the second-highest among all colleges. Students from the top 1 percent account for 22 percent of students, clocking in at No. 7 and coming in higher than any Ivy League university. Think about the socioeconomic diversity this way: There are more Wash. U. students who can afford new laptops, phones, Canada Goose jackets, international vacations, Greek life memberships, tuition, room and board and brand-new books than there are students who qualify for Federal Financial Aid.
I bring up these issues because they are major indicators of how a minority student will fare at Wash. U. A Black freshman can go from studying within a diverse population and feeling simultaneously safe and challenged to being thrust into the token role in an ocean of rich people who may not have personally interacted with brown people outside of the service industry. That feeling of isolation is extremely detrimental, leading to minority students who struggle to thrive or even just survive. The feeling of being alone can easily destroy one’s self-confidence and break even the strongest of work ethics. Wash. U. needs to come to terms with how it throws its minority students into the deepest parts of the ocean that is college.
Perhaps the worst way Wash. U. doesn’t adequately support its minority students is with academics and how little room for error exists. College is a major adjustment for any student, but for a minority student, it is especially daunting. There will be periods in which vulnerable students slip because they can’t afford to go off campus and enjoy St. Louis, or they have to navigate how to succeed at a high-pressure university without the knowledge a college-educated parent can give. But Wash. U. doesn’t give a damn about that. Yes, there are programs throughout the University that are designed to help, but they are rarely advertised enough, and they don’t provide the level of support needed for the students they were created to help. Minority students are nothing more than social capital to the University, and once they can count you in their statistics, you are on your own.
In addition to the low numbers of minorities, the lack of a middle-class at Wash. U., and the absence of adequate support programs, there are no spaces for minority students. Tucked away on the third floor of the Danforth University Center, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion does aid students in navigating university life. But one office on a floor most students don’t know exists does not count as “enough” for black and brown students. Everyone needs a space where they do not have to worry about putting on a face. Since there are so few minority students, they often are seen as a representative of their entire group—a daunting task for anyone. Having a space to decompress and to be in a room full of people who understand your experience as a person of color at a primarily white institution would be a gigantic asset to have for minority student at Wash. U. Yet again, Wash. U. has failed its most vulnerable students. I understand that space is limited, but so is the patience of black and brown students.
Finally, some people within the administration and the student population see the airing of grievances by minorities as being “ungrateful” and “unappreciative.” To those people, please do everyone a favor, and stay quiet. Minority students are here for a reason, and that reason is because they belong here. You have no idea the sacrifice and endless hours of hard work that went into getting into this high-priced pressure cooker. If the University wants to tout minority students as the cream of the crop, then it should cultivate an environment that allows for continued success instead of simply survival.
While the University puts students of color on flyers, websites and brochures, there needs to be a more concerted effort to make sure these admitted students are given the tools to succeed that have often been kept from their families for generations. A first-generation college student from a single parent household needs more than the 1 percent legacy who has never had to worry about money a day in their life. If the University wishes to truly foster a community of growth, learning, compassion, camaraderie and scholarship, then members of the administration should get their heads out of their a—- and listen to what the students are telling them.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify that Washington University’s minority report does not include international students.