Diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education: A new programming series for students and alumni
by Julia Dupuis ’21, Staff Writer
“Students of color are the ones who tend to struggle the most in predominantly white institutions. As a faculty of color, I have to ask myself: what kind of college experience do I want my students to have?”
This question, posed by Danielle Roper ’06, Provost Career Enhancement Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago, kicked off the alumni panel “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education.” Part of a series on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, organized by the new Affinity & Identity team in the Career Center, this virtual event focused on the challenges of college students coming from underrepresented backgrounds. From admissions to enrollment, the alumni panelists discussed the challenges for marginalized students on higher education campuses — and how schools can better support Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) students.
Spanning issues like elitism, privilege, and white supremacy, the panelists described coming to terms with their roles in a predominantly white institution.
Sarah Schmidt ’06, Associate Director for International Admissions at Macalester College, described encountering a turning point in her career. “I woke up from the way I had been raised as a white, cisgender, Protestant female and I realized that the system catered to me,” she said. “Admissions officers need to have that wake-up moment and recognize that these institutions were built and created largely to exclude BIPOC and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Admissions has evolved over the years to serve as that gatekeeper.”
While recognizing the role admissions plays in upholding structures of oppression was a step forward for Schmidt, she said it pushed her to take action in the workplace. “I’m not a director and I’m not a vice president. But I still have a voice and I can have conversations and push back against colleagues.”
Jimmy Nguyen ’14, Development Officer at Northeastern University, viewed his work in fundraising as another opportunity to challenge the way higher education upholds white supremacy. “There are things that I actively do to push donors to reconsider their gifts. I help the donors understand why we should consider student scholarships specifically for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students. And that’s because, for the longest time, those were the students who are neglected and excluded from higher education.”
While Roper considered her time at Hamilton to be a benefit to her career — she graduated with a fellowship and transitioned into a full-time job — she had to adapt new strategies to succeed on campus. “I thrived because I immersed myself in Black and Brown spaces,” she said. “And so I would say to students of color and poor working-class students that a lot of the work has to be around taking care of each other. Advocate for reform on the level of policy, but also for the wellbeing of students, staff, and faculty as well.”
Reflecting upon his own experiences at Hamilton, where he was exposed to the divide between low- and high-income students on campus, Nguyen emphasized the importance of support systems for disadvantaged or marginalized students. “It’s not enough that we just bring the bodies to campus. We have to set them up for success,” he said.
Finally, he echoed Roper’s point that policy changes are a strong start, but that student relationships can also offer necessary support. “Cultivate your friendships,” he said. “Take care of each other. That’s the best way to build a community and support each other beyond what the Hamilton administration can offer.”
For student attendees like Nyaari Kothiya ’23, the event proved to be a necessary follow-through on the Career Center’s commitment to diversity programming. “Having these kinds of events can help students find their own community on campus,” she said. “Based on the different Connect Team panels, I’m seeing a change in the diversity of panelists, which makes me believe that events like this can catalyze change on campus.”