I was in awe of the beautiful view of the mountains, the blue sky and the warm breeze flowing through my shirt. I was riding a bike in Montana when it happened.
One week before I came to Gonzaga University in August 2017, I went on GU’s Montana Pre-Orientation Trip. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved camping, mountain biking and anything to do with the outdoors.
The second day of our four-day trip, my pod of 25 campers went biking. Halfway down the trail there was an elderly white couple who began to pass in the opposite direction. My partner and I were the last pair of campers riding our bikes at the back of the pack with a leader following close behind.
The woman sped past and as the elderly man started to pass me at the back of the pack, he veered toward me, outstretched his arm and shoved me hard in the shoulder. I swerved to the right and almost fell, then looked back to see my leader yelling at the man as he continued to ride in the opposite direction.
I was confused at what had just happened. The frustration, anger and sadness all hit at once. I was the only person of color and the only Black student in my pod of 25 campers. He saw nothing but the color of my skin. This is how I came into GU as a freshman.
My first year at GU I attended an event that would foreshadow much of my experience as a Black student on campus. In “Stories Behind The Stats,” senior students of color would tell stories of their experiences of microaggressions and ways that they were treated differently because of the color of their skin at GU.
I remember my freshman self, wondering if some of these things would happen to me. News flash, they have.
Freshman year: A girl I had never met ran up to me in the John J. Hemmingson Center asking if she could touch my hair. I had a flattop at the time. She didn’t ask for my name or even ask who I was. She had the same excitement you have when running up to a dog to pet it.
Sophomore year: It was the middle of the day as I was putting clothes away in my dorm. Across the hall there were a couple guys hanging out like they usually did. In the room across from mine I heard a couple muffled words, then the word “N----r” come out of someone’s mouth. Two seconds later, I looked across the hall to see the door being slammed shut. All of the guys were white. I was the only Black student on my floor.
There’s not enough room in this article to include everything that happened to me junior and senior year. This isn’t unique. Most students of color at GU will have a list like this by the time they graduate.
The experience that still leaves me feeling the most annoyed, frustrated and dehumanized is the way I have become a token Black student on this campus. While GU has highlighted me for some of my accomplishments throughout my time here, which I appreciate, they have also used me extensively to recruit Black and brown students to campus.
My face has been featured twice on GU’s home page, two times on GU’s Instagram and four separate times in GU brochures. This has left me feeling used, bitter and frustrated. Recruiting a more diverse student body shouldn’t rely only on the faces of a handful of students of color.
Instead, it has been demonstrated elsewhere that one of the most promising recruitment tools would be the creation of a more diverse faculty. Underrepresented students should have the opportunity to learn from professors who look like them and can relate to their experiences.
Diverse faculty also give us a wider scope of the world and the many perspectives in it. In my years of schooling, this is the first semester I have ever had a Black professor or teacher. Why?
GU seems to profess how much it cares about diversity, equity and inclusion, but when it comes to a deeper commitment, GU lacks resolve. At this university we had a postdoc program that brought in diverse faculty from the University of Washington with the goal to eventually diversify our own faculty.
Out of the eight postdoc fellows that have come to GU, only one has been retained. Currently on the postdoc website, there are three current fellows listed and pictured, but only one of them is here and that person is fulfilling his contract while the program itself has been suspended.
That the program is currently on hiatus is not made clear by the website, and the reason for the suspension has not been communicated to students. Pictures of the diverse postdocs’ faces are being used in the same way my face has been used in pictures — to make this university look more diverse than it really is.
It is beginning to make me think that GU created this program to boost its diversity marketability rather than a true commitment to diversifying our own faculty in the long-term. It’s up to you to put pressure on the administration to let them know that students want and need more diverse faculty.
Watch the video online, read the article and sign the petition. These are steps you can take right now to hold GU accountable. Now more than ever, we need more tenure-track diverse faculty.