I never knew a simple expression could bear such a shocking revelation. It has been over two years since I first stepped foot at the prestigious Ivy League institution of the University of Pennsylvania and while some things have changed, others have definitely not. For quite some time, I could not put my finger on why such a school as liberal and physically diverse as Penn still had its obvious divisions. Then one day, I talked to a fellow minority student about why they were happy to be accepted to Penn. The response was simple. They said they felt "lucky" to be here. At first, the term did not mean much to me until they went on about how he felt special to be selected out of so many other black students who applied because he knew how "competitive and limited it is for minorities to be here on campus." For some reason this statement never really sat well with me internally. Although all of the things they stated were true to some degree, it was the demeanor in which they said it that made me ponder. It was not until I went on an incoming freshmen Facebook group page and saw a Caucasian student state that he was "proud to be a Penn Quaker" for his "work paid off" that I realized the problem. I had heard these statements in my class when I entered Penn, and the mentality has been passed on through each class of color before and obviously after, about our enrollment and place on campus. In my opinion, a great deal can be made as to why minorities feel "lucky" to be here and why others feel "proud." Without realizing, this perspective has created a social racial inferiority complex that has hit the stratosphere of student interaction at Penn.
Many will argue automatically "what is the big deal" and difference with the wording. To feel lucky about something is to feel as if you achieved it by chance and not of pure merit. To feel pride is to believe you achieved something through self-dedication and talent. The problem with this scenario is that both students involved are attending the same university and had to go through the same likewise application process to get here. Regardless of one's doubts of attaining the best SAT scores, GPAs, and extracurricular activities, Penn is a highly competitive school, and for minorities to doubt their abilities and confidence once being accepted develops an even larger issue.
Culturally, minorities have been taught and raised to be humble of our accomplishments. However, it is one thing to meekly recognize your true ability than being a fortunate servant to the opportunity. The idea of feeling lucky makes one feel as if they should be thankful and not entitled to the equal prosperities of a University. And looking at the larger picture, this can be seen in our interaction on major campus organizations and groups. Not many minorities participate in student government that is "campus wide" such as class boards and undergraduate assemblies. Many choose to cling to smaller culture based groups which often times isolate them from the Penn mainstream. The idea to join these groups is not wrong, but for many to feel it is their only option is the problem. It disappointed me when I declared to run for a student government position I was reminded constantly that I had to work harder and carefully to make myself acquainted with my Caucasian counterparts in order to receive votes. This whole idea of "branching out of the community" seemed to me as a much distorted way of looking at the situation. Why is so much weight put on minorities to establish their place here on campus alone? Have anyone ever thought why is it that Caucasian students do not work as hard to get to understand minorities on campus as we do them? Why is it that minorities feel pressure to choose between being the "black, Latino, Asian, etc. student on campus" or the "Penn Quaker?" Have anyone ever asked themselves the question when they look in the mirror, what does an Ivy League student (or Penn Quaker for that matter) even look like?
This great dichotomy ages back to, in my opinion, the institutionalized emphasis on diversity on campus. Diversity, diversity, and goddamn diversity; I swear I have heard this word at least a thousand times since I came to Penn. Whenever a minority is a part of a predominately Caucasian organization: diversity. If two random minorities are sitting together on campus: diversity. To clarify, diversity is not a bad thing, nor do I dislike it at all; however, the way in which it is promoted on campus is the issue. It is fine to have diverse individuals, but to only emphasis their existence as being "diverse" is belittling and degrading. What does it mean when Penn says they pride themselves in being "diverse," and is that only meaning having the presence of minorities on campus? Diversity does not mean racial tolerance, but racial acceptance. Are minorities placed in certain groups and organizations to have a multicultural photo-op or are they actually being included at the table where their thoughts actually matter. And that is where the root of the "lucky" vs. "proud" issue stems from. By emphasizing on minorities' existence at higher institutions of learning as being diverse and hardly anything else, this undermines the actual achievement and pure talent that they actually possess.
This may sound very simplistic, but minority students on campus are smart. They are talented, they are valuable, and they have ideas and inventions that can really enhance not only "their community" but the entire campus at large. We are not just a group of underrepresented students of color looking for a hand-out or a social pity party: we want to be in the front seat and respected just the same as our Caucasian counterparts. Yes, we have dealt with many obstacles, but not enough to shade the hard work and dedication we also have of our own natural abilities. So the next time we run for a student group at large, do not just take in consideration our ethnicity but our actual talent. If we are a part of multiple ventures, we are not "power hungry" but goal orientated and brilliant as the rest. And finally, do not tolerate us but accept us; we do not have to be reminded that we are one of the few minorities in the club and neither will we bow down and feel "lucky" for it being that way.
In conclusion, minorities must play their part in eradicating this social inferiority complex. Stand up, and reflect on all your achievements. Do not let them get over your head, but do not forget them as well. Pride yourself in being a member of the overall college, you were accepted just like everyone else, you have just as much a stake in this school as the rest. In addition, correct others on your enrollment here as well. Often times, we are told "great for you to join the group, we try to have more diversity." But counter argue that by saying, "yes, diverse talent, perspective, and ability." And lastly, the hardest thing we must overcome is not just emphasizing our merit to only minority based concerns. We should not only speak out against only our own social issues but all issues in general. This makes us more than just a "lucky" minority on campus, but a "proud" member of your college.
Follow Ernest Owens on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MrErnestOwens