Committee on Diversity Affairs discusses acclimation issues

Maija Anstine

Several Lawrence students gathered Tuesday night in Science Hall to take part in “I’m Not From Here: Coming from the U.S.,” a discussion-based event hosted by the Committee on Diversity Affairs.
The event was intended to provoke conversation about difficulties students experienced when coming to Lawrence from different parts of the country, typically ones with drastically different cultural environments. Student comments will be shared with the Lawrence administration to help improve the acclimation process.
Chelsea Wantland, head of CODA, moderated the event, opening the dialogue with several questions: “Did you feel welcome? Did you feel at home, [or] did you feel out of place? Was there an educational gap?”
Wantland herself suffered from culture shock, coming to Lawrence from an environment where racial miniorities constituted the majority.
“I felt very isolated, not welcome and very alone… my issue was more assimilating into a predominately white culture,” Wantland explained. “Being a white student, it was assumed I would integrate well.”
The education gap between the low standards at her public high school and the academic rigor of Lawrence also posed a problem.
Another student agreed, “People say ‘go see a tutor.’ It needs to be more than that. You need stuff like how to study [if] you didn’t really have to study in high school.”
Timeka Toussaint acknowledged that the education gap was hard to overcome. But beyond academia, she admitted that culture shock was the most difficult obstacle.
From the East Coast but not a member of the Posse program, Toussaint was often excluded by groups specifically designed to help with the acclimation process. “Conversations would end because I’m not a Posse member,” she explained.
Breanna Skeets agreed that an emphasis on racial diversity can be detrimental. “People in high school didn’t want to be associated by the color of their skin,” she said. “Now, students ask about diversity on campus. But what is diversity? Is it how they look? Is it how they think?”
Most students at the event agreed that groups like the Black Organization of Students, VIVA and the Afro-Caribbean Club should emphasize their nature as cultural organizations rather than racial organizations.
“It just so happens that they have darker skin, but that’s not what the group is about,” added Jasmine Peters-McClashie. She suggested that a better relationship between these groups and their umbrella organization, CODA, would help.
Peters-McClashie said that an overall campus awareness of these issues is necessary to change this mistaken mindset about campus organizations. “The president, the dean of students, people in admissions… these people need to be aware that students are thinking this way.”
Other issues that students addressed included isolation and discrimination. One explained that, even coming from other, larger schools, he felt the most isolated at Lawrence, “as far as my say in the campus environment, as far as activities for African-Americans.” He cited a poor retention rate for black students as proof of Lawrence’s failure to offer adequate assistance.
Some students agreed that a faculty representative, one who could not only empathize from afar, but a relatable, younger adult who has experienced the same racial issues, would be helpful.