When Inclusion and Access Converge: Imagining a College Space Where the Work Actually Happens – by Chelsea Osademe, IRT ’19
I was scrolling through Facebook, a few weeks ago, when I came across a reposted TED Talk titled “On Diversity: Access Ain’t Inclusion” by Dr. Anthony Jack. Dr. Jack argues that, “getting in [college] is only half the battle. Colleges and Institutions invest millions into diversity and equity recruitment, but don’t think about what to do once [students] get there. Access ain’t inclusion”. During his talk he addressed what it means to be a first-generation student navigating the politics and unspoken rules of college, what it means to truly feel included, and how exclusion can impact an individual’s ability to achieve success and college matriculation. As a first-generation Nigerian-American and first-generation college graduate, Jack’s interest in what it means to feel and be included on college campuses, in the midst of access to a college education, as well as the resources these institutions provide, really stuck with me. Dr. Jack’s talk affirmed my own experience as a minoritized individual traversing college campuses, as well as the current mundane battles I’ve faced as a prior student, now staff member, at a predominately white institution (PWI).
Navigating college was hard for me, even at a the Historically Black College (HBCU) I attended for undergrad. As Dr. Jack asserts, “colleges expect students to be comfortable with engaging with faculty”, but I struggled to learn the politics of the campus, the do’s and don’ts of my discipline, and what professors I could trust as an ally. Although the majority of the students and faculty looked like me, their world was completely different from mine. I was in a new state, interacting with a new curriculum, while also attempting to grow into my own individual personhood away from my family, friends, and hometown— a recipe for disaster if the proper guidance and connection aren’t established. I had no clue what office hours really were and although I had been networking my entire life, I didn’t really know how to do it 600+ miles away from my home. Networking and connection looked different for me at Spelman, but the racial barriers that exist at most PWIs weren’t wholly there. Luckily, I had access to professors like Drs. Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Michelle Hite, Tikenya Foster-Singletary, and Melanie Mims McKie, all Black women, who explained what office hours were and, in some ways, made them a requirement. My reluctance to attend office hours and express a need for help was soothed by the connections my professors made with me in the classroom. By way of their guidance and role modeling, I figured out the politics of academia, the power of networking, beyond and within one’s own department, and established a college experience that worked for me. It was hard, but I did it with help.
Shortly after attending Spelman, I matriculated to Kansas State University where I obtained my master’s degree and now work. My time at K-state has been formative and isolating. As one of four students of color in my graduate department, with only three faculty of color, I often felt alone and saw how overworked the few mentors of color in my department were. As a mentor to several undergraduate students of color at the university, I found myself wondering how successful I would have been if I had not attended my coveted HBCU for undergrad and enrolled at a PWI instead? Would I have gained the same networking skills? How would my Blackness and womanhood have felt in those spaces? I often find myself not having a concrete answer to these questions because of the slippery slope proper support plays in degree completion and identity formation.
I now serve as one of three staff of color in my department, and on a daily basis I see the ways in which minoritized students struggle to find inclusion on their campuses and living communities. Many college students face several of the same fears and anxieties associated with success in school, but these barriers become compounded when cultural competency is at a loss in predominately white spaces. While several institutions pride themselves on holding culturally competent values that create inclusive spaces for students, many of these spaces don’t think of, and are often unaware of how uncomfortable students are seeking help. As Dr. Jack assertss in his TED Talk, “Access ain’t inclusion”. Utilizing buzzwords like Equity, inclusion, cultural competency, diversity etc., and raising funds for diversity initiatives is not enough in these spaces. If students don’t feel included enough to make use of the resources created with them in mind, how are we really helping? We have to stop and ask ourselves: what are you doing to foster true inclusivity at institutions once the students we target arrive? Are we effectively serving the students and communities we work in?
If you haven’t already, make an action plan and act! Educate yourself. Serve and advocate for current initiatives! Students and faculty of color across campuses need proper support. We can’t bare this burden alone.
Chelsea Osademe is a native of Pine Bluff, Arkansas currently residing in Manhattan, Kansas where she works as a Community Coordinator for Kansas State University Housing and Dining Services. She received her BA in English from Spelman College in 2017 and MA in English from Kansas State University in 2019. Her research interests focus on the relationship between gothic aesthetics and notions of citizenship and anti-Blackness in African American literature and culture.