The most effective conversations on diversity and inclusion are the ones focused on solutions that take into account the nation’s history of discrimination. For this reason, conversations that have surrounded the concept of minorities having “a seat at the table” have neglected to mention that, historically, having a seat has not been enough.
Inviting minorities into the conversation is not enough; it is the first step. Keeping these groups at the table and encouraging participation calls for an effort to create a genuine sense of inclusivity that allows not only their presence, but also their participation.
Minority students who have made it to the top universities have essentially been given a seat at the table; however, the fact that they still experience the crippling emotions of imposter syndrome shows this has not been enough. As Marion Sewer of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology explains, “For minorities, impostor syndrome can complicate an already challenging career path in which isolation and the pressure of representing an entire race is already in play.” This phenomenon propels minorities to question their admission and intellect, as well as feel incompetent despite their accomplishments.
A lack of preparation and feelings of alienation lead to the gap in minority retention and graduation. In many instances at top-tier institutions, this significant gap in student retention is due to social pressures and self-doubt. In an joint poll, the Jed Foundation and Steve Fund found that black and Hispanic students were more likely to feel overwhelmed in college, but also more likely to keep their concerns to themselves compared to white classmates. All students face emotional and academic pressures as they transition to college, but minority students are more likely to internalize these feelings and not seek help.
Perhaps it is time to revise what it means to give minorities a seat at the table, particularly at institutions like universities. To reduce the challenges that they face, colleges must foster environments that help alleviate these feelings of inadequacy among students of color. In particular, mental health resources and counseling must be promoted in such a way that these students know they have the support they need when they struggle at school.
On campus, this process can involve cultural diffusion across students of all backgrounds in their classrooms, clubs and all other social engagements. Simply letting everyone, even those who do not suffer from the phenomenon, know that there is a problem can induce people to make conscious efforts to create a better experience for everyone.
So yes, having a seat at the table is great, and is very important for increasing diversity at college campuses, but this alone cannot be a token solution for inclusion. Let us not just invite minorities to the table; let us welcome them and provide them with the support they need so they know they are not just there to fill a quota. The appearance of diversity is one thing, but the actual integration of these voices can benefit everyone at the table.
Anu Osibajo and Isatou Bah are freshmen in the College. FIRESIDE CHATS appears every other Tuesday.