By Erin Reilly ’20, Editor-in-Chief
Amid the increasing national conversation around racial inequities and injustice, students of color on the St. John Fisher College campus shared their experiences and concerns as the small minority on a predominantly white campus — with plans of action set on a hopeful future.
“I feel like, as a student of color, we have to go the extra mile to fit in in regards to making friends or just making connections with others because of our skin color. It’s just very difficult to navigate,” said Lisa Balde, a junior at Fisher and the student facilitator of a recent panel on racial equity, about being a minority on campus.
“It’s been a struggle and it’s been very eye-opening,” said Danyal Shah, a junior nursing major, in regard to being a student of color at Fisher. He expressed that he felt support from staff and faculty at Fisher, but had only begun to feel that way recently, most likely because of the recent events in the Rochester community and the nation.
“Just being a minority on campus makes you feel alienated or left out and you just feel like all eyes are always on you.” Shah said that he felt there was an expectation of him and that he felt people were waiting for him to make a wrong move or mess up. “I’m just trying to prove everyone wrong and show them that I can actually be successful.”
In general, conversations revolving around race on campus have begun to pick up recently, partly in response to the 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge that the campus is taking part in.
Details regarding the Challenge came to the entire campus in an email on October 22, from the Challenge Co-Chairs, Dr. Joellen Maples and Dr. Yvette Conyers. It explained that an email will be sent out on each of the 21 days, equipped with various resources from Rochester’s 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. “These emails will provide daily opportunities for 10 – 15 minutes of self-guided learning, offer suggestions for reflection, and list options to continue your learning or take action,” the message read.
The email also provided details for discussions that would occur every Friday throughout the challenge on Zoom, each with an aim to reflect, respond and discuss further action. One of the Co-Chairs of the Challenge, Conyers, expressed her satisfaction with the turnout of the second session in particular, one that mostly consisted of the voices of students and their experiences on campus.
“They were really transparent and honest and raw with the school and those who participated about being a student of color and navigating Fisher’s community on campus,” Conyers said. She noted that she was hoping for a larger student turnout, but understands the difficulty of everything now being online. “At the end of this, we’re really thinking about what we’re going to do to sustain action and keep the momentum going among us as Fisher family, not just today, not just next year, not just next month, not just for Black History Month. It’s ongoing, so we’re really looking at sustainable dialogue and action.”
Dr. Conyers also expressed the fact that and that all schools have work to do to support their students, Fisher included, whose campus community is very predominantly white. She spoke about the recent killings of Daniel Prude and George Floyd, along with the Black Lives Matter movement and the current political state of our country, in relation to the College and its response. “I think those things also led the college to really evaluate what we are doing or, even more, what we are not doing to support those of color on campus.” Fisher’s campus demographics, like Dr. Conyers noted, have historically shown a predominantly white student body. According to the Fall 2019 census published by the school, the most recent data shows the “Student Head Count by Race-Ethnic Category” as follows:
American Indian/Alaskan Native: 9
Black or African American: 111
Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0
Hispanic of Any Race: 142
Two or More Races: 48
Unknown/Not reported: 35
Per that data, roughly 84% of the student body is made up of white students, while only the other 16% is made up of other ethnicities, a difference that is hard to ignore.
A main concern and point of conversation among students this semester was the school’s response to news like the death of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, Breonne Taylor, and countless others. Students at the school have been very outspoken, organizing “Say Their Names” events and a campus-wide protest.
“One thing I’ve been hearing a lot is, ‘Why do we have to pay for the mistakes of the past, of our ancestors, like the people who were around during slavery?’ The thing is, it’s not that you have to pay for it. Just show support for us and fight with us. That’s what we need Fisher to do,” Shah said.
When asked about what needs to be done on campus in regard to these concerns, Balde agreed with Shah, noting that students of color and minority students on campus often feel alienated or left out. “I would like for students of color to be welcomed as a part of the Fisher Family. I’ve talked to many of them, and they don’t feel like they’re part of the Fisher Family that’s been created. They feel like the outcasts.”
“Fisher Family” is a common phrase on the college’s campus, alluding to the feeling of home and inclusivity that it hopes it brings to students. It seems as though that feeling is nowhere near uniform among the students, and there’s hope that the 21 Day Racial Equity challenge, and the conversation that emerge from it, will continue to change that.
“This is a great step in the right direction for the future. We just can’t start, and then next year end the conversation,” Balde said. “We need to keep going in order to create change, and change doesn’t happen in one day. It takes time and it takes effort from everyone. We all have to join together.”