Diversity to disillusionment: The transfer experience

by Kevin Milton / Beacon Correspondent • October 12, 2016

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Minority transfer students feel noticeably different—we need to focus on creating an inclusive environment for all students.
Minority transfer students feel noticeably different—we need to focus on creating an inclusive environment for all students.

Being a transfer student bears certain hardships across a variety of areas. As a first semester transfer student at Emerson, I have faced a few myself. Transferring schools can be a difficult adjustment when it involves leaving a familiar environment for a place you may not know much about. Often times, we feel insecure about our newfound ignorance as transfer students. Having to readjust to a new institutional ambiance and making new friends with people who’ve already formed tight-knit circles are just two of the issues we face.

The deck is stacked seemingly high against the transfer student. Coming from a community college in Maryland where the students represented over 180 countries, made diversity part of my ideal college environment. I was used to seeing people of different backgrounds, and that was something that dramatically changed once I arrived at Emerson. So I thought about race as another factor, an unspoken one, at play in the transfer experience. It can be easy to harbor feelings of alienation or intimidation when you aren’t accustomed to a particular demographic or culture. I have dealt with these feelings myself and began to wonder what the transfer process entails when students of color transferred to predominantly white institutions (PWIs), such as Emerson College.

Since transferring to Emerson, I have not been made to feel entirely included. Had it not been for my eager and enthusiastic personality, which has led me to join many extracurricular activities and different organizations, I would not know anyone at this school. I have yet to experience any real form of the inclusion that Emerson boasts. Regarding my peers, no one has truly made me feel welcome at this school. For a college with an office of diversity and inclusion that attests to ensuring cultural competency, and inclusion where diversity is regarded, I must say I am disappointed. I will not fully attribute this to my brown skin, but what I will say is that I feel noticeably different.

By belonging to a perceivably marginalized group, and identifying as a person of color, I cannot ignore the question, “Would I fit in better at Emerson if I was a white student?” The deck of cards seemed to be stacked even higher against the transfer student of color.

Emerson is an institution where 70 percent of its student body is white . I began to talk to fellow transfers who were not white, and noticed something pretty interesting. While many had reported mild racism, I was shocked by the response from Taylor Jett, class of 2016 and co-founder of Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform (POWER), a group that I have since joined.

“My first week at Emerson, two of my suite mates (both white girls) started joking about how they weren’t sure what to expect from me because initially they thought that I was going to be ‘too black to live with,’” Jett said over the phone.

It was shocking to hear about these remarks in what was perceived to be a progressive and inclusive environment here at Emerson. However, noting the color of my skin as a potential reason behind my failure to properly assimilate was only reinforced by the experience of another transfer student of color. I feel that if I harbor these feelings, and students like Jett experienced these acts of racism, then others must deal with similar encounters.

I write this in an attempt to question, not to accuse. The fact that I have to wonder whether my skin color plays a role in my ability to assimilate should highlight Emerson’s ability to do a better job. We need to ensure that students of color aren’t made to feel isolated, belittled, or unwanted. I advocate on the behalf of myself and other transfers alike, particularly the minorities, who may have a harder time fitting in. It is important to remember that one negative transfer story is not reflective of the entire community. But there are so many versions of these stories, and we as an institution need to investigate the root of the issue. “Expression necessary to evolution”  was once our school’s motto. Why not uphold what we promote? Let’s incite change so that all community members feel comfortable and included.

Despite my occasional lack of comfort, I have grown to really like and appreciate Emerson College. For any student who is having trouble meeting people and making friends, there are solutions. Getting involved and seeking support are a couple ways you can go finding your place in the Emerson community. Some groups on campus I’ve found to be helpful and inclusive are EAGLE, POWER, and UNITE. Many faculty members have also expressed their potential roles as support systems. Use them as resources for success. Since transferring from my old institution I have become more aware of my race, and what it means to be Hispanic and Black in this community. I believe that race, just like any other factor when transferring, is important. However, let’s use the varying racial backgrounds as a learning opportunity and not a reason to alienate others or ourselves.