Segregation on Our Campus

Our campus community at Mount Holyoke can definitely be described as diverse. We have a relatively large international student body accompanied by a large faculty (its diversity has been called to question in recent times). Along with embodying a very inclusive culture, the fact that Mount Holyoke is a women’s college results in it drawing especially liberal, open-minded, and politically “woke” students. Is there still racism on campus? Not much, at least not to the visible eye. That said, is there still racial and cultural segregation? Absolutely. The question is: does it matter?

You don’t have to be on campus for too long in order to make the observation that friend groups tend to be homogenous in nature; in fact, all you need is a visit to Super Blanch during its busiest hours. South Asians hang out with South Asians, East Asians with East Asians, Latinos with Latinos, black people with other black people, white people with other white people, and so on and so forth (of course, many people belong to more than one of these limited categories). That is not to say that there are no exceptions: there are, in fact, several exceptions--but rarely do these exceptions move past individual friendships to medium or large-sized friend groups. Now, it can be argued that it is completely normal for people who relate to one another to hang out with one another; after all, that is a stereotype that has been squeezed dry by every high-school movie in existence. The art kids hang out with the art kids, the emos with the emos, and the popular crowd with other popular people, and so it goes. The difference is that in high school your identity was formed taking into account your interests and your general attitude towards life, whereas in college it seems that your identity takes the form of your cultural and religious beliefs, accompanied by the color of your skin.

Part of the problem could be that Mount Holyoke is too diverse. Each country is well-enough represented to make it easy for international students to sink into the comfort of their own people. Since the foundation for many friendships is formed within the first year at college, the chances of you making friends with people from the general region of your own country are enhanced, given that your first year away from home is generally when you miss home the most and search for something that could connect you to it. It isn’t much of a surprise that people end up making friends with those who are culturally and racially similar to them, even though it is possible that they may not have made friends with those same people had they met back in their home country.

That said, a friend group that is perceived to be homogenous may not be so at all. For example, in my circle of “brown friends” there is a Hindu Indian, an Indian from Kenya, a Muslim Pakistani, a Muslim Bangladeshi, and a Hindu Nepali. Similarly, a “black” group of friends or a “white” group of friends may share a similar dynamic. In other words, no matter who you are hanging out with, and no matter what color their skin is or how culturally similar they are to your own country, you may still be able to learn a lot from them. That said, there is still a physical and cultural string that is connecting the both of you. Would you learn even more if you stretched this string further? I certainly believe so.

At the end of the day, humans tend to be more similar than their perceived differences, and ideally those similarities should be represented in mixed friend groups. Arguably, the only thing keeping people of different colors and regions from readily mixing with each other is a mutual shyness and perhaps some sort of stereotype regarding them having distinct personalities (wherein brown people are considered to be stoic and traditional, East Asians submissive and unable to speak English, African Americans angry and overtly sexual, and so on and so forth)-- all of which are preconceived notions by which racial and cultural groups cannot be defined by. Additionally, a huge part of the liberal arts experience in America is being introduced to an array of different cultures and personalities--and by refraining from doing so, one is missing out on a huge part of their educational experience; that said, I do not think it is something that needs to be forced. It is not a compulsion to tick off a checklist of “foreign” friends, the only compulsion is to treat everyone with equal respect and judge their personalities according to their personalities and after trying to get to known them--and not on the basis of their culture, race, religion and nationality.

The Mount