How minorities experience campus life differently

By Minju Park, Columnist

On University of Illinois’ diverse campus, there still exists an overwhelming amount of racial tension. It bubbles at the surface, only occasionally bursting in a spit of flame. These few conflicts are what receive attention.

By partaking in several extracurricular activities, observing the atmosphere in classrooms and just being an active member of this campus in general, I’ve come to realize the extent of the plain ignorance that exists in the minds of many.

The way I experience university life is starkly different from the way others experience it on the same campus. While I don’t want to chalk it all up to one cause, I must admit that the race of the person I am interacting with plays a significant role in the way I’m treated.

There are so many things that I worry about in regards to my identity as a racial minority in this community. The thoughts are almost unconscious now as it has become a constant screening in the back of my mind for my whole life.

Then I realized something — some people have never had any of these thoughts about their racial identity at any point in their lives.

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It isn’t their fault. Growing up and being conditioned this way was not a choice. However, at this point in anyone’s life, being mindful of how you treat people is most definitely a choice.

Here’s a list of experiences that the majority of our campus community will never experience, but must learn to understand:

  • Stepping into a room full of people, looking around and feeling intimidated when you’re the only person of your ethnicity in the room.
  • Feeling like you’re being judged when you eat your favorite home-cooked food in front of other people who aren’t familiar with “ethnic” food.
  • Having to explain to your parents what a sorority is and worrying about receiving a bid because you don’t have the countless letters of recommendations for the legacies that stretch back multiple generations.
  • The constant worry about people assuming you can’t speak English fluently based off of surface appearances such as the way you dress or the way you do your makeup.
  • Having to correct stereotypes based on your race, disprove misconceptions about your culture or deal with cultural appropriation.
  •  Suspecting that your skills, expertise or qualifications are overlooked due to prior judgements based on the way you look.
  • Worrying that your race will become a disadvantage when applying for a job or obtaining a professional position.
  • Feeling the need to join together with other people of your race in order to have a voice in a large community because, otherwise, you feel powerless.

Awareness is only the first step in improving race relations on campus. While many of us remain oblivious to rampant injustices in our community, it is important to acknowledge them to stop the cycle of ignorance in its tracks.

Hopefully someday, our diverse community will reflect equal opportunity across all races.

Minju is a sophomore in Media.

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