As an undergraduate student of Queens College, there needs to be more diversity, inclusive systems, and activities involving students of all races on my college campus. Maybe there are, but I have never noticed any. Although most of my college experience has been online due to COVID-19, when I was in school, I felt like an outsider. College felt segregated– Asians with Asians, Caucasians with Caucasians, African Americans with African Americans, etc…– making me feel like I attended a college that you would see in a movie during the 1960s.
Because I struggled with speaking to other people of different backgrounds and races, I disliked being on campus. My environment growing up played an important role with these emotions. I went to an all Black elementary, middle, and high school. Therefore, when I attended college, it was a complete culture shock for me. There were no instructions on how I should operate in this new environment and how I should approach speaking to people of other backgrounds. My biggest fear was saying the wrong thing. However, when some of my professors started implementing group work and activities for students in the classroom, I had the biggest light bulb spark in my brain: they are just like me. Although they may have different experiences or backgrounds, that’s okay, because at the end of the day, we are all human. Everyone working together was better than working by myself. Each person had their unique perspectives on the group project, and as a result, it was an awesome experience. Professors should take these steps to create an inclusive environment such as implementing group projects with set ground rules for activities and icebreakers at the beginning of some classes to make students more comfortable. An inclusive classroom can break barriers and result in more diversified group settings.
Along with inclusion at Queens College, I have also noticed how diversity in faculty plays a huge role in the success of students. From my experience, I felt that I could achieve more in life when I saw professors who were from similar backgrounds as me. As an African-American male,it was hard for me to believe that I can do a lot in life because I rarely saw people who looked like me in powerful positions in fields of my interest.
Working with YI helped me break that barrier in my mind, letting me know that it is possible. I have seen African-American New York State Senators such as Jamaal Bailey, Roxanne J. Persaud, Robert Jackson, Leroy Comrie, Zellnor Myrie, and more. Seeing people of color in high positions has shown me that it is possible to achieve the same goal. The same should be reflected in the classroom. According to the CUNY Queens College Faculty’s Report, the student population is 58.8 % White, 12.7 % Asian, 7.8% Hispanic/Latino, and 6.4% Black/African American. There has to be a better representation of diverse faculty in the classroom, in order for students of all backgrounds to succeed.
A favorite quote of mine written by Liz Fosslien, states that “Diversity is having a seat at the table. Inclusion is having a voice. And belonging is having that voice be heard”. At Queens college, diversity and inclusion needs to be elevated. They can do this by hiring more faculty members of different backgrounds, creating training for students and faculty to promote DEI in the classroom, and even developing a DEI student board to represent these core values through DEI projects everyone can participate in.
Stephen Jackson is a senior at CUNY Queens College and a Young Invincibles-New York summer intern.