I recently heard an interesting argument about identity-based clubs on college campuses. Why make club for a marginalized group when you could just include them into the whole of the campus? Why would you single out a group that is already separate, and remove them from the students at large? Why would Maryville College need a Latino Student Alliance?
These questions tumbled around my mind for a good minute and settled in the pit of my stomach. Why, indeed, do we make this space on campus?
Making a student organization catering to a specific identity group really is not a radical idea. I have heard too many arguments pushing for “Men’s Studies” courses in reaction to Women’s Studies curricula, too many sneering comments about the lack of a “White History Month” once February comes around. Acknowledging a subpopulation within a campus is not an affront to majority groups. Rather, it is a valuable first step toward respecting and including groups who could easily be overlooked and lack representation, so that all of our students feel a part of the college.
Rather than criticizing the social structure, pointing to systems of privilege or shaming those who rather the identity-based groups disappear in the first place, I have a simple point to make. If Maryville aims to create inclusion for all individuals, and the identity groups to which they belong, on campus, then we have to start somewhere. Ideally, every student would be educated and sensitive to the nature of others’ backgrounds, cultures and identities, but people are neither that simple nor that considerate. When considering minority groups, we have to make a first step toward recognizing their worth on campus before we can claim that they are included.
For that reason alone, I say that we need our LSA. We need our BSA, GSA, SVA, Sigma Lambda Kappa and Intervarsity. Reciting the acronyms can get laughable, but it is worth the effort; we need our alliances, our safe spaces where we can express and explore the facets of our identity that do not make sense to a larger audience. Perhaps just as importantly, we need the members of those organizations who make up all of those “A”s, a group is not an “alliance” without members of the out-group. Plus, I firmly believe that it is a valuable experience to be in the minority sometimes.
Do I like that inclusion, acceptance and mutual cultural understanding sometimes requires making a student organization? No. Is that the reality of our campus and regional culture? Yes, at least for now. Identity based clubs are not a cover all solution to the layers of issues that surround living as a minority student, but they sure are a start. While I may wish for a world where cultures are always appreciated and respected, we live in a world where we need groups to provide support and camaraderie. I suspect that finding a place where my identity “fits” will be a life long journey, but for now I am grateful for my niche within LSA.
The Latino Student Alliance meets every Thursday night at 9 p.m. in the Multicultural Room on the third floor of Bartlett Hall. All are welcome.