“But I’m not an Arab” is often the confused response I get from students when I ask them to join the Arab Association. It is true that the association is trying to bring students that identify as Arabs together, spread awareness and break stereotypes in order to lessen the otherness experienced on campus. But this is the mission of many cultural orgs on campus; to bring awareness of a culture to those who may not directly experience it. How then are we able to do so when our so called diverse community is apathetic towards active cultural engagement and learning?
As MHC students, we are expected to be global citizens and culturally competent. However, a lot of students here don’t know how to benefit from being in a multicultural and multiethnic community. For example, the cultural events that happen on campus are usually attended by people who are already a part of that culture. When the Arab Association hosts open mic events, most of the audience are students of Arab descent or are their friends. The same faces show up again and again for each event. Thus, the cultural intersection that people claim they desire never reaches out to students that have never had exposure to the Arab culture. Other cultural orgs on campus surely have the similar experience of preaching to the choir.
The privileged groups on campus should listen to their fellow marginalized and oppressed students that make our campus “diverse”. The privileged need to see and listen to stories that show how the power of their privilege is oppressing their constituents. Because simply saying that there is nothing you can do, or that you don’t identify with a certain group enough in order for you to take action is exercising one’s privilege. Going to cultural org events are a way for the privileged to be a listener instead of the mike holder.
There are a lot of ways in which you can engage in our campus’s diversity. First, think outside the donation box. Simply contributing your dollar is not the only way of participation. For instance, when the earthquake happened in Nepal, most of us thought that donating was the ultimate way to help. However, donating is an action that only takes a few seconds. Helping a community does not happen in seconds, nor does it happen using money only. You should push yourself to take some extra steps. Educate yourself about your diverse community, so you can correct others when they spread false information or perpetuate stereotypes. I understand the dichotomy of us having a lot of personal issues to worry about already, but being conscious of the issues around you is equally important. Having mindfulness of it helps your own well being.
Going into a current example, one issue that hits home for me is the refugee crisis, especially the Syrian refugees. It’s not something that only the students of a particular country or region should be worried about -- it’s a global issue that everyone should care about. At the end of last year, there were some 19.5 million refugees worldwide, about half of them come from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). We also have students from these countries on campus. These students should not suffer on their own worrying about the fate of their people. They are part of our community, and we should care about them by keeping ourselves educated through sources other than popular media. Their stories are powerful and will have more to teach than a random internet article.These people deserve to be kept in your thoughts. They are a crucial part of our society and we should educate ourselves on their lives. Think about how they escape from their burning houses to minefields and barbed wire. Go to events that are put together to educate you using first hand experience and personal stories. Equip yourself with enlightened arguments to fight the ignorant statements you might hear from people that look at the refugee situation as a threat to their lives or countries.
Don’t be a passive community member and instead fully engage in your diverse community. There are people on this campus who are more than willing to share their stories with you. I encourage you not to be complicit in the rhetoric of “I don’t identify as one of these people or with this region, so what can I do? Or should I even participate?” These are poor excuses for a MHC student to use. Embrace the community that is present for you and be there for your friends and classmates when they need you to support and hear their voices. Echo their voices in the communities that didn’t have the privilege of being engaged in diversity. This will be the best way for privileged individuals to understand the experience of oppressed people. Don’t speak over them, but put the microphone in front of them.