Fostering a better environment for BIPOC students at Maryville College

While Maryville College implores the student body to “Do good on the largest possible scale,” the college itself seems to lack in certain areas of support for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) students. 

The institution consistently features diverse individuals in its promotional material as a strategy to enhance institutional growth, yet it appears to make little tangible effort to address the challenges many of those students encounter. This raises the question of whether profit is prioritized over student well-being, a topic that periodically circulates among the student body.

Coming into Maryville College as a transfer student, I didn’t know what to expect of my time here. Although the school promoted a left-leaning and welcoming environment, I had heard from friends about the reality of being a minority student on campus and how it differed from this depiction.

Orientation brought forth a myriad of niceties about the wonders of attending a small, liberal arts college. With gleeful consensus from my mentors that all students feel safe and respected and that MC does the very best it can to hear the grievances of its small population, I began to fall into the passive idea that the campus life featured on the website and flyers full of shiny, smiling and diverse faces might be a reality. However, as I delved deeper into my college experience, I began to notice the stark differences in the ways certain students were treated.

Almost instantly, I saw how students and faculty alike spoke to or acted towards students that weren’t white-passing. Witnessing white students clear the pathway when they view a group of BIPOC students heading their way, even when there is substantial room left on the pavement. Sitting in the class of a so-called “progressive” professor as they singled out the sole student of color in the room anytime a discussion of trauma regarding race or ethnic background was brought up. Hearing my peers discuss instances of faculty at MC dismissing them when they would bring up the struggles that come with being a student here was disheartening.

This, along with numerous other instances of micro- and macro-aggressions perpetuated by white students and faculty at MC, made me feel as if I was lied to when I applied to be a student. A campus that markets itself as an equitable, hospitable environment for the growth of all students seeking an education still upholding an atmosphere of white supremacy is not the community that’s being promised to incoming scholars.

While there have been many pieces written in the Highland Echo, opinions shared on social media and discussion in minority-based organizations like Black Student Alliance over the years about Maryville College’s inclination towards a white-centric viewpoint, the issues associated with this still persist throughout the divisions of campus life. As the problem still festers at MC, many students will come to find struggle and hindrance in their time at the institution.

Sol Robinson, a First-Year student at MC and regular attendee of BSA meetings, believes that her time at MC has been affected greatly by her Black identity. “I didn’t think I would go through as much as I have,” she said. “The lore for MC is that it’s micro-aggressive as well as contradicting. I came here for an education and don’t really feel as comfortable as they marketed it to be.”

As Robinson has progressed through her time as a student, she’s noticed the differences in the promotional aspects of MC compared to the reality for Black students on campus. 

“The school will put diversity at the forefront of pictures, but, in real life, it doesn’t seem that way. It’s apparent when you see the difference in how they treat the football team,” she said. “They will be surprised at the amount of education the Black students hold. It’s almost like they have us at a standard.” 

This sentiment is just one of many for BIPOC students currently struggling with the racialized imbalance of power permeating throughout the institution. Robinson believes that one way in which the institution could be doing better is by letting BIPOC students indulge in their heritage without making them feel as if they’re playing into a stereotype. 

The representation of inclusivity at MC can not just be labeled on the flyers used to get students to enroll into the school and increase the institution’s monetary value. If MC truly cares for its students, this projected idea of equitable opportunity needs to be implemented throughout all areas of the school, while supporting underutilized aspects of the college currently supporting this process, like BSA.

Montina Jones, Diversity Representative and head of the Diversity Committee in SGA, believes that MC could foster a more inclusive environment by actively attempting to hire more diverse staff and faculty. Jones feels as if occupations like that of Diversity Representative that cater towards the goal of equity are imperative to the institution. 

“It’s important to foster an inclusive community for students and they should feel welcome in some sort of way,” she said. “Having a diversity rep can help bridge the gap between the student body and the various structures of campus life.”

Another proposed idea to close the gap between the institution and student body is bringing more diverse speakers and presenters to the campus. 

“Having more POC speakers come to campus would give students the opportunity to be able to network. And it would be beneficial for applying to graduate schools and getting summer internships,” Jones said.

As Maryville College continuously promotes its diversity, as well as the motto urging all to “do good on the largest possible scale,” it is imperative that this idea of doing good is seen in all aspects of campus life, whether that be socially, academically or institutionally. For Maryville College to allow its students to live by the aforementioned motto, it must also recalibrate the lens in which the institution views its students and the types of subjects it’s addressing.

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