If I walked up to people and asked them if they cared about inclusivity, I think most people would say yes. The problem is, I don’t think CMCers fully understand what inclusivity takes. Inclusivity requires sacrifice. We don’t talk about this, because we want to convince ourselves that it's easy to do, so that it's palatable and easy to support. But it’s not. Inclusion means that the most privileged among us sacrifice something to level the playing field. Sometimes the sacrifice is a little easier, like restructuring a party you love, and sometimes the sacrifice is a little harder, like... you know, your grades during a global pandemic.
I’m not surprised that CMCers don’t seem behind a universal pass/incomplete policy. We aren’t very good at giving up what we want for the good of the entire student body. To be very clear, the only equitable policy was a universal pass or universal pass/incomplete. Would it have hurt some people trying to boost their GPAs? Yes. Would it have leveled the playing field for the students most hurt by quarantine? Also yes. Why is it only disadvantaged students who are publicly outraged? Where is everyone else?
But this misconception goes far beyond grading policy, as many students already know. It’s clear in moments as innocuous as Dry Week and our party culture. Students aren’t able to give up their one moment of fun, and respect Dry Week, to make sure that orientation is actually inclusive. Dry Week, among other things, means that everyone is able to socialize on an equal footing, regardless of whether or not they drink. If everyone respected it, there wouldn’t be some students who felt that they didn’t belong because they don’t like to drink, or even just don’t always want to. And it's not just first years, it's also not clear to FYGs that it's more important to model an inclusive culture than to look cool in front of your FYGlets and drink with them during the first week of school. The misconception comes out in FYGs wanting to take shots with their FYGlets at 6:01, it comes out in the racial divide at parties (typically based on music/location), it comes out in who we see on Green Beach.
And the problem isn’t so much that EDM is played at parties or that people love being on Green Beach. People are definitely allowed to do what makes them happy, but it's really a question of how often there’s been a discussion of why certain demographics aren’t comfortable in those spaces, and what we’re actively doing to fix that. The ASCMC events team (and Quantum Records) can do all they want to program in a way that allows a more diverse range of people to engage, but it won’t fully work until all students start critically engaging with why they feel comfortable in certain spaces while their peers don’t.
Why do certain people naturally feel more at home at the Athenaeum than others? It's not random. Do we really expect women and students of color to feel as comfortable when they see themselves reflected in speakers’ identities less frequently than their other peers? Do we really expect low income students to feel comfortable when they might’ve had to buy clothes just to attend? What if they can’t afford dress code friendly attire? They have to go to DOS and explain their circumstances, and already they get a different social experience at CMC. Is the Ath formality a fun part of the experience for some people? Yes. Does it make a lot of already marginalized students feel out of place? Of course it does.
We seem to have some trouble understanding that none of this is random. Giving people equality of opportunity is not the same as giving them equality of experience. Sure, everyone can apply to a research institute. But, who naturally sees themselves in those positions? Who already knows how to write cover letters? Who already knows what they want when they come to college? And we know this, we’ve talked about this. And yet, how many organizations reach out to affinity groups? How many organizations have cover letter workshops? How many organizations push back fall hiring? Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, maybe you’ll lose your implicit and irrelevant competition to get more applicants than other organizations. But does that really matter?
Sometimes it’s just a question of caring enough to engage. Last year, Hong Kong was burning, India occupied Kashmir, there were massacres in Delhi, protests in Lebanon, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Iran, Iraq. That’s not close to a complete list. Chances are, you know someone from one of these places. With numbers near 20% of the population, international students are one of CMC’s largest minorities. When something terrible happens in the US, domestic students have a community to support them. How many international students had to remain isolated as their homes were, in some cases, quite literally on fire?
And of course, it all starts even before orientation. It starts at the legacy admissions. It starts at the schools the admissions office visits to recruit students. It starts at what prospective students see on our social media. And it falls on all of us to do something. As college students, we have power and privilege. It's easy to forget the weight of the responsibility that one should feel along with the privilege. For a lot of people, there isn’t an excuse for the inaction. Those with the most privilege have the most responsibility. But unfortunately, even those without significant privilege carry a responsibility simply by attending elite institutions. For some of us, we get to justify our place in these institutions. We get to say that we’re representing marginalized communities. But are we really?
Representation is an active job. Representing our marginalized communities isn’t working for a company that had contracts with ICE. Representing our marginalized communities isn’t supporting policies that disproportionately harm them. Representing our marginalized communities isn’t forgetting you’re a part of it once you get to CMC. Representing your community means actively working to make sure you’re elevating the disadvantaged people around you. And yes, a lot of responsibility lies with institutions to support students and push for inclusion. But similar to what happened with grading policy, an administration can only create change when a student body demands it. If our student body does not start acting in the interest of inclusion, we will never have it. Inclusivity is active, and every single person needs to be invested.