Diversity has and continues to be a large component of the infrastructure of Rutgers University. [Rutgers University] prides itself on the legacy of Paul Robeson and it’s vast congregations of multicultural Greek life, clubs and student organizations. On the outside looking in, having these opportunities coupled with the campus having a student body that is approximately 61% POC makes Rutgers seem to be a very minority-oriented campus. However, as a student of color, I am here to tell y’all that a lot of this stuff, in my opinion, is just for show. I feel that Rutgers spends more time boasting about diversity than it does promoting it within the community. To further explain this, let’s take a journey down memory lane, shall we?
A Quick History Lesson
Rutgers University, where do we even begin? The brochures say that Rutgers was chartered as an all-male institution in 1766 and named Queen’s College that was, later, renamed to Rutgers College to pay homage to Henry Rutgers, a colonel in the Revolutionary War. This brief snippet of Rutgers’ lengthy history paints a scarlet-tinted story of valor and achievement. However, this feat is only the tip of a very macabre iceberg.
Rutgers University was built on Lenape Indian land. Similar to other situations between White settlers and Native Americans, the settlers drove the natives out of the land and used African slave labor to build the university up brick-by-brick. Not to mention, the people behind notable Rutgers buildings such as Hardenberg Hall, Frelinghuysen Hall, and even the university itself were all slave owners. Trust and believe you won’t hear this on a bus tour during RU open house.
Even Ray Charles could see that this school’s history has a lot of blood and inhumanity on it’s hands. So, you may ask how this plays a role in the school’s status quo- I’d say that guilt from the past has partially played a part in trying to make the school more inclusive, aside from Affirmative Action (which really benefits White women but I’m not going to get into that on this article) and Civil Rights.
A Seat at the Kiddie Table: Paul Robeson and the Tokenization of POC Students
I will start this section off by saying that Paul Robeson and his legacy are an integral part of Rutgers and its “Revolutionary” movement. However, too much of a good thing can start to turn sour real quick. Real, REAL quick. Robeson wanted his legacy to give Black students after him hope for the future, he didn’t want his name to be something that is thrown up in the air like a beach ball every February 1st through 28/29th. It’s important to honor him. But, what isn’t cool is overshadowing other students of color who have greatly contributed this institution. Paul Robeson has now become the token Black mascot of this university. I think that they’ve now passed this torch down to us to show the world that we put the “D” in diversity. Diversity here, diversity there, diversity everywhere. They make it known that the school has a lot of culture. However, this ain’t Chuck E. Cheese, you can’t cash us in when you want to win the biggest “revolutionary” prize.
I feel like my position as a Black student is like a seat at the kiddie table. The university gives us enough to feel included, yet we still don’t get to play spades and break bread with the “adults”. Here are just a few examples of what I mean.
- Having a 10-year plan where all cultural centers are being congealed into one (this one, in particular, really makes me upset because it greatly diminishes the culture that each of these spaces have)
- Having multicultural Greek orgs yet NONE of them have charters for houses on College Ave
- Having various tracks of cultural studies yet there is no cultural competency requirement to graduate
- Using a lot of crowd-control (i.e. wristbanding) on POC events but not so much on other events (just my personal observation, by the way)
This just leaves me with a WHOLE lot of unanswered questions as to why there are double standards within this community. We give our time, tears, mental health, and last, but most definitely not least, our money to this university. Rutgers is getting paid, but we’re coming up short in our till. We, too, matter. It’s important that we get what we deserve. And that, is a seat at the table.
I would like to end on this note, student activism has done WONDERS into giving awareness to our struggles. Students have a pivotal role in the university. When we tap into this role and really speak our minds, both singularly and collectively, we, little by little, have gotten, are getting, and will get shit accomplished. We will slowly, but surely, rebuild this university, diverse brick by diverse brick.
About the author:
Cheyenne is a soon-to-be graduate of Rutgers University who is currently applying to MFA programs in Media Studies. Aside from her studies, Cheyenne has a passion for fashion and all things aesthetic such as body art and makeup. She also has an unwavering love for anime, traveling, writing, and reading. She writes both fiction and editorials, utilizing influences from her life and her environment to create textual magic. Cheyenne hopes to bring her creativity, activism, and love of words to the Shortline Review team and, moreover, the world.
*Featured image cover has been taken from The College Fix