Ursinus and Diversity. How often have we all heard those two words in the same sentence? Probably more than collective sanity and empathy can bare. Recently, I was considering the diversity issues that we all hear so much about. I was looking on the website and trying to understand what Ursinus is actually doing, as they often claim they are doing a great deal to confront these issues. Just on the website something became obvious. The College has recently made a serious effort with Queer issues. Which is wonderful. Clearly, I benefit and partake in these efforts as a contributor to this blog. The reason it struck me as so interesting is that it seems, and this might not be the way it was meant to seem, that the College has chosen Queer issues as their diversity issue. What I mean by this is that College has pointed to Queer issues as the issue they would like to address under this umbrella term of diversity.
This might seem controversial, but as a person who benefits from this peculiar privilege, I think it is necessary to point out. Take for example Queer House. I have sat in on the meetings with Residence Life to get the house reinstated for next year, and generally know a decent amount of the effort to attain and retain the house. In the same meetings, there is always discussion of the other houses as well, which includes the Africana and American Studies house. This house is just as important and serves the same purpose Queer house does, only it is a space for students of color on our campus. The College has clearly given some sort of preference in the case of SPINT, and it is important to discuss when it comes to understanding the efforts to make Ursinus a "diverse" community and diversity discussions generally.
First of all, and most obviously, the Africana and American Studies House has been made to adopt a name that isn't wholly representative of the students who lives there. The house is almost exclusively people of color and White allies. Queer House is made up of the same kind of residents, students who are queer and straight allies. One major difference between the two houses is that Queer House is almost completely White, and has only one or two people of color from outside the house use it for a safe space or general socializing. And yet, the campus is comfortable (for the most part, this name was a point of contention for some campus community members) with the Queer House being identified as a queer space. The residents of Cloake or the Africana and American Studies house, will say that their house serves the same purpose as a safe space, and in fact I have heard them claim Cloake as exactly that. Yet, if the house was identified as something like People of Color for Social Justice (which exists at other liberal arts schools) then almost immediately there would be some outcry from the campus community about "segregation" and a need for a more racially "inclusive" atmosphere. It is often mentioned that diversity issues on our campus are a "White-Black" thing, meaning race and specifically Black students are at the center of these diversity debates. Could that just be because the campus doesn't know how to effectively discuss race, or at least not in the same way sexuality is discussed? I don't know, I'm just a guy but it sure seems to me that the overarching racial narrative that impacts all of us as U.S. citizens is present in these debates.
Furthermore, race is not the only issue that revives less attention than queer issues. Self-identified women on our campus have to deal with the constant threat of rape and a lack of community support or resources to alleviate the issue. I know this is a topic that comes up every once in a while and gets really heated among the students. However, the issue is that rape culture on our campus is discussed among students, faculty, and administrators, and nothing ever changes. The only major change (that isn't some federally mandated minimal effort) has been the emergence of the Peer Advocates, which to date, have done very little in the way of educating to change the culture on this campus. Even if they had, a group of students can only do so much before am administrative effort is necessary. And by administrative effort, I mean a no tolerance policy to sexual offenders and more concerted and consistent effort to help the survivors of these incidents. Even within the Queer community, many people are misrepresented by the College's preference. All gender non-conformists or transgender people at Ursinus are excluded by the schools effort to be Queer friendly. In fact, when discussing things that are "queer" almost always the assumption by members of our community is that we are discussing non-heterosexuals. Of course those people are involved, but gender identity and expression are equally important when considering things that are queer, and this is almost completely lost. This could just be a matter of a lack of open trans folk on our campus, but if queer issues are important then their must be some sort of effort to be inclusive to this half of the queer community. The L-G-B are definitely the parts of the acronym that see a great deal of the support and attention on our campus.
There are a variety of other issues that the College doesn't effectively consider. Why is it that there are additional masses held for Catholics on our campus but no services specifically dedicated to students who are of non-christian religions? I know that chapel is non-denominational, however, given the training of Reverend Rice and the people who attend chapel, it definitely has a Christian aura to it that at the very least, is not inclusive enough to non-christian students. There is a distinct class difference among the some of the students of the College and there aren't many spaces to discuss this, other than in class. (By the way, sometimes in class discussions aren't enough to address these issues. Just saying.) I'm unsure with whether or not this is even necessary, but I am a middle class person so I lead a very different life from those above and below me and I think it might be fair to assume that a safe space to discuss class issues on campus would at the very least be something that won't harm anyone. The intersectionality of the identities of various students aren't effectively considered. The nature of race on our campus leaves the Queer spaces feeling very White and doesn't allow queer students of color to have the same spaces. People with multiple racial identities are forced to fit into one box because they don't have a space to discuss these issues. Even more frightening, there are no spaces to discuss and work towards a shift in how these issues are considered on our campus generally.
My point with this post wasn't to criticize Ursinus and their efforts to be more diverse, even though it very easily could come across as that. My point was to say that the Queer students on this campus, specifically non-hetero students are, for reasons unclear to me, offered more resources and support than any other marginalized students at the College. As a benefactor of this peculiar privilege, I think that two things need to happen- 1.Queer students need to be more aware of this and 2. the campus, meaning all members of the community, needs to confront why exactly this preferential treatment has come about at all and reflect on whether this is really an effort to create "diversity" or just a small expansion of the borders of an unconscious integration.