In the spring semester of 2013, I was inducted into one of the most highly competitive organizations on JMU’s campus. The JMU Student Ambassador’s pride themselves on being some of the friendliest college tour guides in the country, convincing prospective high school students from all over the North East to attend the home of the Duke Dog. I knew it would be difficult to get in, but I got through the interview process and couldn’t be happier to take part in what was advertised to me as the experience of a lifetime. Many, many others were not accepted but what they didn’t know was that if they were an applicant of color, their chances of getting in were slim to none.
There are currently one hundred and twenty-two student ambassadors, the group just accepted a brand new class of forty-one. However there are fewer than fifteen students of color in the entire organization and there have only been about four black Ambassadors in the last four years! I was one of two in my class.
I have been a student at JMU for almost four years now, so being the only person of color in a room full of white people is nothing new. I tried to fit in by ignoring the overwhelming whiteness in the group at first, but it soon became more and more apparent that I was not so much a welcome member of the organization as I was a lucky token. During our tour training, an executive member suggested we tell racist jokes on our tours about how the amount of nachos you can get at PC Dukes could feed all of Mexico. They made it clear that if we were uncomfortable talking about diversity (read – race), we could simply ask the staff at the Center for Multicultural Student Services (CMSS) to do it for us. And the icing on the cake was in finding out that we often borrowed black and brown students from CMSS who are part of Students for Minority Outreach in order to make our tour guides appear more representative of the student body.
I was quick to complain about these issues to the president, advisor and Admissions staff. All of them acknowledged that the group had a serious problem when it came to recruiting students of color and reaching out to other marginalized student groups. They claimed that they were “dedicated to diversity” and were happy to have me on board. I quit the following semester after realizing that when they said they were happy to have me on board, what they meant was that they were happy to have me to do everything for them.
Two days ago, I saw the newest group of students chosen and was sickened to see that Student Ambassadors had once again selected very few students of color. Twenty-percent of students at JMU are non-white. This means that in order to be representative at least twenty-four Student Ambassadors should be people of color.
We have to stop pretending that what is happening in a major student organization that acts as the face of our University is okay. Student Ambassadors is intimately connected to our Admissions and Alumni offices. It is not okay that students of color and international students cannot access this organization in the same way that white students can.
Some have claimed that students of color are unqualified or that they are not applying. However there are many qualified students on this campus who have been turned away from Ambassadors and many who do not apply because they see that Student Ambassadors is not a space for them. It is time we demand a fair application process that does not discriminate against students of color. Students of color are not asking to be selected because they are black, Latino, Asian or Native, but because they are passionate, qualified and ready to represent a University that they love.
What do you think about this problem? What can we do to solve diversity issues on our campus?