Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Everyone was White"

Mission High School tries to promote college and exposure to higher education as early as possible, so yesterday a bunch of the ninth graders took a field trip to UC Santa Cruz. My students mostly reported good times (except for O., who whines about anything one could possibly whine about), so I asked if it was a place they'd consider going to college. The unanimous response was negative. Why? "Because everyone there was White." They described what they had seen as they walked through campus and ate in the dining halls: "It was like 90% White people and then maybe 10% Black people and then nothing else."* "Too many white people."

It fascinates me to contrast this reaction to the one I know many White people have upon arriving at college: being overwhelmed by the diversity. How interesting the way our worlds and perspective change when we set foot on a college campus... What I don't know how to explain to my students, however, is what this type of change would mean for them. For White students who suddenly enter a space where they're in the numerical minority, it can be a culture shock, but they can also rest assured that their cultural dominance will be maintained. White, upper-middle class values will still be privileged, especially in academia. But what happens to my students--who are already excluded in so many ways from the culture of power--when this marginalization is magnified so noticeably? I do want my students to pursue things beyond high school, including college, but I wonder what it means for them that the only options for college are ones that value a culture they've been excluded from. Do they have to trade in their culture to be "successful"?


*UC Santa Cruz lists the following racial breakdown of their fall 2007 freshman class: 47% Euro-American, 25% Asian American/Pacific Islander, 18% Chicano/Latino, 3% African American, 1% American Indian, 6% Not stated (U.S. residents). Does this mean I should give a lesson on calculating percentages or a lesson on (mis)interpretation of statistics?

1 comment:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

My friend's Chicana daughter is going in the fall and completely psyched about it.

Is there ANYWHERE in our society, though, where your students' cultures aren't marginalized? This is one of the tragedies of the U.S. at this point. The racism card is still flashing like a spotlight.

It's a matter, I guess, of deciding both what they want most and what they're willing to sacrifice to get it. It shouldn't be that way, but I guess it is.