Ethnicity

A First Year’s Initiative: Diversity

Tamanisha John '15 holds an archived version of the Round Table cover from 1969. PHOTO BY HANNAh WARREN

By Tamanisha John ‘15
CONTRIBUTOR

As a first year student here, I’ve been aware every day of the ethnic make-up of Beloit’s campus just by looking around me. I always knew that I was black, but at Beloit, it takes me 10 minutes, sometimes more, to see ethnic diversity.  My FYI class, Separate but Equal, taught by Aurora Chang, was the only thing that kept me sane during my first few weeks here. My FYI classmates closely mirrored the diversity I was used to seeing back home and provided the diversity advertised to me as a prospective student.

Beloit was the only Midwest school that I applied to.  I’m the first person in my family to go to college and was so excited during the application process that I applied to 18 schools. I was accepted to 16 and wait-listed by two. My friends and teachers thought that I was crazy to go to Beloit because I was accepted to better-known schools.  At the time I was confident in my choice.  I don’t feel as confident now.

In October, there was a screening of “Precious Knowledge,” a documentary about the importance of ethnic studies in a high school in Tuscon. The film inspired me to ask “Why doesn’t Beloit have this program?”  I wanted to learn about African-American culture and more about myself as a person during college.  I started searching the Internet for things about Beloit and ethnic studies.  What I found was disheartening. This issue has been brought up numerous times.  After talking with faculty members and older students who were trying to get this done, I was told that the people in charge usually “wait these things out” until you to stop being persistent, lose interest or graduate. But I am not about to graduate anytime soon and I am not a quitter.

After researching Beloit and ethnic studies, I ran into a list of 12 demands made by black students 46 years ago. I knew my FYI class was soon going to put up displays in the library about various court cases in order to raise awareness of those cases. My group was assigned Brown v. Board of Education.  I knew we had to focus on Beloit as well as Brown v. Board. I shared this idea with my group members and they were all for it. We set up our library display, “Brown v. Board v. Beloit,” hoping to make people think about the past as well as the present. How much has changed since Brown v. Board and how present are those changes here on campus?

After hearing Tim Wise speak on Oct 27, I knew it was time for me to do something to help not only myself, but current and prospective students as well. That night, I sent out emails to the President’s Office and the Admissions office and got a meeting with the president.  Prior to meeting with President Bierman, I met with students, professors and people in other areas to get some advice on what Bierman was asking in his email to me when he wrote “What would be the programmatic rationale for [ethnic studies] and what evidence is there for and against different curricular structures to achieve those objectives?” Though the faculty seemed just as pessimistic as the upperclassmen that fought for this before me, they gave me the confidence that I needed to follow through and answer Bierman’s question.

My meeting with Bierman went very well and made me feel like having classes that discuss race and ethnicity is something that not only can happen, but can happen by the time I’m a sophomore.  Bierman suggested that I get a group of faculty and students who are serious about enhancing classes that we already have to go more in-depth on race and ethnicity. Bierman said that although he has a voice, faculty and students are the ones to make things like this happen; so I say let’s make it happen.

I cannot fight for this alone and I am not the only one fighting for it, but this needs to become a priority at Beloit College, not just for me, but for everyone. If you want any more information or if you want to help fight for this with us, please feel free to contact me by email, johnt@beloit.edu.

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “A First Year’s Initiative: Diversity

  1. Tamianishia! Keep up this important work. You are an inspiration to us all!!

    Posted by Jennifer Platow | December 22, 2011, 6:05 pm
  2. Tamanisha,

    I want to thank you for the work you are doing at Beloit. The issues you bring up are hugely important to the way we educate and structure our country moving forward. When budgets need to be cut, ethnic studies programs and curriculums are often the first to go. I was an Afro and African American studies minor at the college I attended. Shortly after I graduated, the program which was paramount in my educational and cultural development, was slashed leaving it gutted and mostly broken. Fighting to ensure that colleges that do not have these programs understand the relevance and importance of them is absolutely crucial. I hope you continue to fight to ensure that such a program exists at Benoit. Good luck, and keep up the good work.

    Posted by Noah | December 26, 2011, 12:45 pm

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