A Plea for Listening Well at Christian Colleges

NOTE: This is the second part in our 8-part Black to School series which highlights African-American voices and experiences at Christian colleges. Please read Part 1 for context.

delisaToday's post comes from DeLisa Thomas who graduated from George Fox University in 2013. A journalism major at GFU, she led inclusion and student leadership programs and wrote for the student-run newspaper, The Crescent. She now lives and works in Washington, D.C.

I appreciate the vulnerability she shows as she gives a detailed account of one racial incident at GFU.

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As an African American female who has lived in countless diverse cities, I assumed that everyone had a common understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its various forms. I will admit, I was a naïve and blindly optimistic eighteen year old excited to attend a Christian college on the west coast (George Fox University), far from everything I had known. At the time, I was not at all worried or bothered that I was going to be one of a few black students attending the university and living on campus because I wrongly assumed that my minority status was not going to be an issue.

However, my assumption was proven wrong very early on in my college career. I quickly realized that I had taken the beauty of diversity for granted and my attendance at George Fox University reminded me of this every day. Not only were we (the few minorities) singled out due to our minority status fairly often in classes, floor events, and interactions with peers, but our common experiences as people of color were relegated to whiny complaints. As a result we remained unheard by the majority at large, white people.

There seemed be an overall misperception that we minorities were playing the victim card and that our experiences of racism were somehow our own fault or mere exaggerations. Honestly, this misperception is one that cuts me to the core. This misperception communicates to me and other minorities that our hardships, pain, and turmoil are not real or valid. They wrongly suggest that at any given moment minorities can change their circumstances, as if we are the ones in control.

Professors, faculty, mentors, peers, and fellow students: I encourage you to please listen and be mindful of your words when a student bravely decides to share their experiences. Many minority students, including myself have a hard time opening up to others about the harsh realities that plague our experiences at predominately white colleges because people have shown us that what we have to say does not really matter. With this in mind, I’d like to share an experience with you.

The Bon Ordeal

One evening, three white women sat down to eat at the long and narrow table that centered in the front of the Bon, GFU's dining hall. This particular table happened to be the table that we minorities always sat at because it was only table that could accommodate all of us during our “family meals”. In fact, it had been dubbed the “black” table. Even though the white women were sitting at the “black” table, I sat down at the table a few chairs away from them and began eating my dinner alone.

Sensing that I was being watched, I peered over to my right. Three sets of eyes were staring me down. Then, the woman closest to me told me to move. At first, I was taken aback by her command, so I asked her to please repeat what she had said. She made her demand again, this time more defiantly. I quickly caught on to what was happening and I asked her where she wanted me to move.

She replied, “The other side,” which meant the other side of the Bon. At that point, I was very upset and angry that I was being told where I could and could not sit and eat. I refused and coolly explained to her if she did not feel comfortable with my presence, she could move. Soon after, my other minority friends joined me at the table and she and the other two white women left.

This incident highlights the racism and fear-based prejudice that are very much alive and well at Christian colleges. These women were clearly uncomfortable with me and afraid of me because of my race. Removing me was their way of dealing with their fear.

There were many times like this one when I truly felt like I could not endure another ridiculous remark or incident, but thankfully, a small group of supportive faculty members kept me from giving up. These people have blessed the minority community tremendously because they continue to challenge the majority and spark conversations on race-related topics that otherwise would go ignored at George Fox University.

These people’s doors, hearts, and support were always open and freely given. I would never be able thank each one of them enough or express to them how vital they were to my survival at George Fox University! Students cannot be left with the burden of confronting racism. We need our leaders, the people in power, to make racism an important issue that must be addressed and discussed. I hope this conversation continues at George Fox University as well as other Christian universities

Overall, my experience at George Fox has made me a stronger, well-rounded person who can handle the complexities of a multicultural world. Despite the difficulties I experienced as a person of color, I am one proud alumnae. Blessings!

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