I was eight years old when my family moved to United States and sought to make this nation our new home. At the time I failed to consider the perspectives of those around me. Perhaps it was their first time seeing a family from Freetown, Sierra Leone, in their city of Columbia, South Carolina. A few days later, I would attend my first day of school, where I came to find that, yes it was the first time many of them had ever seen someone from Sierra Leone. Did they feel encroached upon? Was I just one of many foreigners who were moving into their communities? Current nationwide trends say that, yes — we were only one of the many international families settling into our new home in the United States. So what’s the problem?
One factor is that many white U.S. citizens believe that their race is in danger of being overtaken by minority groups. “Census finds a more diverse America, as whites lag growth”, a 2017 NPR article reads. Who wants to lag?
A title like this is enough to give the average white man or woman some inkling of anxiety, and if not, then total fear that they are will soon be the new minority population in the United States. If that is still not enough to instill some feelings of trepidation as to what their future holds, similar studies suggest the same. According to the United States Census Bureau, whites accounted for 80 percent of the total U.S. population in 1980. By 2060, however, that number is estimated to fall to 44 percent.
These statistics, however accurate they may be, are used as divisive propaganda. Nazi Germany used race-based propaganda as fuel to attack the Jews; Australia did the same with the Aborigines; and it was seen in the United States with the Native Americans. Is this any different? No.
There is a current rise in white supremacist group activity with the aim of preserving pure white heritage, and a significant amount of that propaganda is directly aimed at college students. The Anti-Defamation League revealed results from a late 2017 study that found a more than 200 percent increase in hate crimes on college campuses across the country. Higher education institutions have seen incidents at University of Virginia, Baylor University, and American University in Washington, D.C., to name a few. After Barack Obama’s presidency, many of them feel that their identity has been threatened and are using fear to recruit college students into their organizations.
This is exactly why higher education professionals should not promote statistics that spread divisive messages. Instead, colleges and universities should consider strategies that promote diversity and inclusion. By recognizing the increasingly diverse campus communities in academia, faculty, staff, and students can communicate more effectively with those from different backgrounds. Moreover, more colleges and universities around the country should consider including cultural competence as an intentional part of their mission statement. Research shows that minority populations will continue to increase, which is why more college and university officials should make an intentional effort towards achieving cultural competence.
Cultural competence helps educators gain the perspectives they need to best serve students who are unlike themselves. Training programs help individuals identify their own cultural identity in relation to those around them, often ending in an appreciation of the similarities and differences. This can be done from an institutional level, and many colleges such as Berea College have made it a fundamental part of their mission and vision. But what can you do on the personal level?
You can take it a step further by familiarizing yourself with the diverse cultures present in your school community. This can be as simple as listening to the music, watching the films or trying foods of the people you see every day. Campus activities such attending minority-based campus events and simply talking to attendees will allow you to build relationships with people from minority groups. This is a critical piece in building the perspectives we need in order to understand people from different walks of life. The point is that not every aspect of cultural competence training has to take place within the confines of a program. It might just mean venturing out of your comfort zone and socializing with people unlike you.
After all, academia has the responsibility to ensure that higher education is accessible and accepting of people from all walks of life. Many believed that Obama’s tenure in the White House would provide a higher platform for diversity and equality. Instead, his tenure brought a backlash of hate, which is why higher education communities must take cultural competence beyond the institutional level and shift to making a personal effort to communicate more effectively with minorities. It may not be easy, but it is necessary if academia is truly serious about welcoming diversity to its campuses. Take chances, make friends, and most of all, welcome the perspectives of those who come from different walks of life.
Ben Harris is a freshman at Bellarmine University.