Let the numbers speak for themselves: In the race of races, GW loses, and that makes it tough to be a minority here. Hispanics make up 5.3 percent of the student body at GW. Only 8.6 percent of the student body is black; this insufficiently represents the 12.4 percent of the nation that is black.
For a school that prides itself on serving as a beacon of diversity in the heart of America’s capital, those figures are pretty bleak.
Poor diversity within the student body has worse implications than just having fewer minorities in class. Some minority students, I believe, consequently feel less connected to the rest of the student population. I am of Indian descent and for me, the campus subsequently lacks a bona fide sense of community among all students.
To its credit, GW has two important programs in place to prepare us for a more multicultural student body. The Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, established by University President Steven Knapp in February of this year, is working to foster a greater sense of belonging for minorities on campus. The Dean’s Council for Multicultural Recruitment also highlights the multicultural dimension of GW for prospective students.
The installation of these programs is important for increasing the number of minority students at GW, but they are not enough. Students seek a program that fosters a better sense of inclusion and community for those already on campus.
This is why the Multicultural Student Services Center is so important. At the MSSC there is already a staff on campus that has consistently played a large, but often overlooked role in not only recruiting multicultural students, but also fostering community among diverse people and creating a sense of identity for minorities at GW. For this reason, it deserves more visibility and support from the GW administration and the general student body. While the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative and the Dean’s Council for Multicultural Recruitment help increase community among the minority population at GW, the MSSC has a formality-free, hands-on approach for making students feel at home.
Various students can speak to the effectiveness of the MSSC and what it has done for their time at GW. Freshman Alexander Veliz is one such example.
Veliz, who grew up near Arlington, told me he knew little about GW in high school but applied anyway. High tuition costs deterred him from seriously considering attending GW, but when he visited the school, he immediately felt at home at the MSSC. He found fellow Latinos with whom he immediately clicked, and his positive experience with the MSSC led him to appeal for further financial aid. His appeal was accepted and a few months later, he matriculated.
Senior Shakir Cannon-Moye, who is a receptionist at the MSSC, appreciates that he can be himself there. “There is a small black male population at GW,” he says. “On campus we’re representative of the entire race. When a black male goes late to class, students think all black males go late to class. Amongst multicultural students, there’s more community, and so we represent ourselves.”
The MSSC’s opportunities are not always visible enough on campus though, and that is a shame because all students can benefit from a bit of international immersion.
“[The center] is a place for coincidental occurrences,” says Cannon-Moye, who attends events featuring different cultures because he learns about them through the MSSC. “We need that.”
This organization does plenty for the multicultural community, yet it receives insufficient recognition. Increasing its presence – both within and beyond GW – should be the MSSC’s focus in the upcoming years. But the group can’t do that alone.
Improving diversity on campus shouldn’t be a goal just so we can report our racial makeup in prospective student mailers. GW should be more multicultural because everyone benefits from exposure to diversity.
Students, if you seek to expand the racial makeup of the student body, it is important that you also do your part to become involved in the MSSC, regardless of your ethnicity. A school that stands in solidarity for interracial cohesion is a school that will attract students who seek to join that community; we must be willing to devote dogged focus to this resolution.
The writer, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.
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