I would like to preface this article by acknowledging that I am a white student who has attended Lewis & Clark for two weeks, and that change takes time. I am coming to this school with little to no knowledge of how diverse and equitable it was before the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent promises the administration made, but I do have a fresh perspective. I believe that LC has failed to deliver on its promises to diversify its curriculum in a tangible way.
In a letter to the LC community last June, President Wim Wiewel said the college would try to recruit more students from historically underrepresented groups, and I have no reason to doubt these claims. Additionally, both Wiewel’s letter and the college’s 2018 Strategic Plan stated they would try to create a more inclusive curriculum. This claim, however, makes me doubt the validity of all the promises made by the administration, as it is refuted by my personal observations:
All of my professors are white. This is unsurprising, since only 23% of LC faculty are people of color (compared to roughly 35% of students) according to the Common Dataset 2020-21.
I took a random sample of 100 books in the library, and only five of them were written by authors of color. 22 of them were written by women.
Out of the 11 books I bought for classes, just one of them has a BIPOC author, the amazing Toni Morrison. Of the 25 main contributors to these books, there is only one person of color, again, Toni Morrison.
It is vastly important to have people with similar identities to oneself as role models. If you are interested in a field, but are instructed to read books by and be taught by people who do not look like you, it sends a clear message that you are not welcome there — that your being there is unusual. One way to recruit, retain and set LC’s students of color up for success is to hire more professors of color and adjust our curriculum to better represent the diversity we want to see on our campus.
I know that I cannot speak for the BIPOC community at LC. However, I know that when I am in situations where I am the only woman in a group, I feel constantly on edge. Not only must I deal with my male peers’ subconscious assumptions that I lack the skills needed for the task at hand, whether it is a math problem or a frisbee game, but this then shapes my view of myself until I, too, slowly begin to believe I actually am inferior.
One of the only ways to undo this self-doubt is to speak with other women who understand my experience. The difference, however, is that LC is a predominately white institution, which allows the microaggressions to pile up with no way to reverse the damage.
I do not wish to undermine any progress the Office of Equity and Inclusion has made in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. That being said, it is evident that LC, a college named after two slave owners, has plenty of work to do. By diversifying our library, curriculum and faculty, and changing the school’s name, we can create a more welcoming environment for students of color while teaching white students to be more empathetic and accepting towards their BIPOC peers’ experiences. These are not the only solutions, and they are certainly not where we should stop, but they are a measurable place to start.
Photograph by Hannah Korn