The 2018 Great Lakes College Association (GLCA) Student Conference was held this past weekend in Albion, Michigan. The colleges in the GLCA that were present included Hope College, Albion College, Allegheny College, Wooster College, Earlham College and several others. The theme for the 2018 GLCA Students of Color Leadership Conference is, “This Isn’t Anything New: Strategies for Survival and Success.” Being a student of color at a predominantly white institution (PWI) presents itself with a series of challenges as well as rewarding experiences.
The experiences of students of color on campuses are nothing new – dealing with experiences of racism, discrimination and other facets of oppression as been a part of the college experience. With this in mind, several Hope students presented topics, ranging from mental health, “passing,” which can refer to disabilities, race, gender or sexuality, to being a queer person of color at a PWI. Each student brought a different point of view of each presentation, and the students from each college sat in on the presentations. In two particular sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, the students were engaged, being rewarded with candy for participation.
In the presentation about sexuality and gender at a PWI, there was a wealth of knowledge from both students from Hope College. They presented the audience with an assignment; draw a set of circles, with each of your presented identities in a particular circle. The closer to the center your identity presented, the more important it was to you. The next exercise involved answering questions in small groups about supporting queer students of color on campus, which is a topic that continues to be a part of Hope’s evolving framework. The afternoon session was a presentation on “passing,” which usually describes a situation in which a person that has a disability or someone that is of a certain race is discriminated against because they are of that race/ethnicity or because they have that disability.
This was a intriguing session, pushing the boundaries of thought. It encouraged the listeners to open up about the experiences that they have had where they experienced discrimination or trying to be something that does not fit with their “true” identity. The sessions were not informative, but they continued to discern thought within the students, mostly of color from each PWI in the GLCA. Skills were developed, and the conversation on discrimination faced by minorities and people with disabilites will continue; stay tuned for next year’s update.