Why Whitman has a segregation problem

Kainat Ansari, Opinion Columnist

Diversity and globalization of the campus is one of the biggest advertisement factors for U.S. colleges and universities. On these campuses, tokenism is mainly used to attract international students and faculty. However, campuses fail to acknowledge the division that exists primarily between domestic and international students. At Whitman, this division takes place in many forms, such as classroom dynamics, social interactions and friendship circles. Even though over the past few years Whitman has done a better job of enrolling students from diverse international backgrounds, it has not managed to address the segregation that exists between international and domestic students.

International students fly miles away from their homes to the United States in order to pursue quality education. We come here with optimism about navigating our identities through mingling in U.S. culture and learning from it. The diversity that exists on campus should provide a platform to bridge the gap across cultures. Staying four years at an undergraduate U.S. college should be a period where immense growth takes place, not only academically, but socially and culturally as well. Unfortunately, the picture looks entirely different than what we expect.

From cafeterias and parties to friendship groups, it is normal to see domestic students only mingling with other domestic students. It is rare to see domestic students hanging out with diverse international students. Similarly, international students are seen to be socializing with only international students.

As an international student, I personally can attest to this experience. In the classroom or at social events, it becomes almost impossible to bridge the segregation because it is so hard to connect to domestic students’ experiences when you are new to the U.S. culture. This unfortunately causes the biggest damage to our growth as students on the campus. We students should not find it hard to connect to the unique experiences of each other. We should cherish this opportunity to learn and grow together, even at times when it is uncomfortable.

The segregation that exists on the campus is not an individual’s fault; it is a failure of our system. A large part of U.S. culture and its history is built on oppression, slavery, racism and cultural exclusion. This historical trauma has been passed down through generations of American culture. The phenomenon of cultural appropriation, e.g. “you don’t touch my culture, and I don’t touch your culture,” is a safety net for people growing up here to avoid seeming offensive or inappropriate. This is nothing but a great danger, and it is detrimental to our growth. We miss out on so many learning opportunities just to be safe and guarded. What is the point of moving across nations or states if we are not willing to mingle with people who are different, yet so similar, to us? Why is it hard to find common ground when we know that it is a golden opportunity for all of us to step out of our comfort zone and take a step towards learning?

As a campus, we need to do a better job of acknowledging this student segregation by taking crucial measures to minimize this issue. The hesitation of domestic students to integrate into other cultures must be addressed.

We should have events and programs exclusively for integrating domestic and international students during the first-year experience. In classrooms, professors need to encourage students to mingle and change groups over time. There should be seminars or workshops for cultural awareness. Creating a sense of community, which includes both domestic and international students, is essential for all of us in order to feel that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves.