There are many reasons why I love the City of Philadelphia. Naturally, growing up in the surrounding area gave me an affinity for the City of Brotherly Love, but there are a whole host of other reasons behind my deep love for this beautiful, dysfunctional city. One of them is unquestionably the abundance of diversity. From South Philly, where my people (Italians) win hearts through stomachs, to Chinatown’s colorful streets, my city is filled with all different types of people. Drexel, as a university in such a city, would theoretically be a reflection of this. Sadly, the diverse atmosphere found in Philly is not entirely present at Drexel.
Don’t misunderstand — I am not suggesting that prospective students should be accepted on the basis of their racial or ethnic backgrounds. Rather, I am commenting on the lack of true cultural understanding and acceptance at Drexel. Keep that in mind as I continue my rant. In my experience, I have come across more individuals of Asian descent and Caucasians on Drexel’s campus than Latinos and members of the black community.
Often, I have noticed that black people are presumed to be “Oreos,” which is a black person who is considered to be “white on the inside.” I have several issues with the term “Oreo,” chief among them being the saying’s implication that black individuals who are educated and successful must be “white on the inside.” This implies that only white people can be successful, educated, bright, etc., which is clearly and entirely false. I could detail the unjust reasons as to why this perception exists in some minds, but that would take up far more pages than anyone truly wants to read in a newspaper. History aside, these sentiments are indicative of a lack of understanding as to why there are few black and Latino individuals on university campuses. As my best friend Jazmin Sullivan (who happens to be black and is a self-proclaimed “semiexpert” on “some” of the features of the black population) explained, “It usually starts with elementary, middle and high school. [Black children are] receiving an education that’s ‘less than.’ It’s wrong. Most black students aren’t educated about college enough, to be honest. Their parents sometimes don’t encourage them, and neither do their teachers. It really frustrates me to hear black students [say they’re not going to college] because they think they can’t succeed.”
Lack of encouragement and resources are not only an issue for black students. Many Latino students face similar difficulties for some of the same reasons, sometimes in addition to a partial or complete language barrier. Commenting on his experiences, a close Latino friend of mine said, “Even if you’re legally in this country and grew up here, many schools don’t put in enough effort to teach you English to the point where you fully understand it and are comfortable using it just as much as your first language. Honestly, most of the time, teachers act like it’s your fault for not knowing English. And when you do poorly in school or get in trouble, you’re just bad and stupid. Because of these issues, it’s really difficult to succeed and be taken seriously.”
Indeed, in my own Italian-American family, I am about the fourth person to attend high school and the third to attend college. This is partially due to a language barrier, partially due to discrimination, and partially because my relatives couldn’t afford not to spend all their time working, let alone to spend money on college. My grandfather, born shortly after his family moved to the U.S., dropped out of school in eighth grade to work. Not working because of education is a ridiculous thought in many families like mine, and things like college are laughed at for being so unattainable. Yet my grandfather is still one of the smartest individuals I know, even if he isn’t necessarily “book smart.” Situations like these are far more common than most Drexel students may realize.
I encounter many students who believe that black and Latino individuals aren’t present at colleges because they aren’t smart, motivated, willing, etc. and that the ones who are at colleges can be considered white. This sort of conscious and/or subconscious thought process is not only incorrect but also insensitive, hurtful and ignorant. Rather than reveling in privilege and assuming that others had the same opportunities, circumstances and resources, students must realize that it’s up to those who are being educated to take the initiative to help those around them. Because we are already lucky enough to be able to attend college, it’s our duty to work to create a system that serves everyone properly and to provide people at disadvantages with prospects and the same, if not better, chances. This can be accomplished in many ways, one of which is through Drexel’s own Lindy Center for Civic Engagement. Helping others isn’t a chore, charity or “bonus karma points”; it’s a responsibility and something to be done out of love, kindness and respect.
Erin DiPiano is a freshman communications major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]