In my three and a half years at CMC, I have only once been taught by a person of color. Most of my classes, perhaps somewhat due to my own choices, have been taught primarily by Caucasian males. I have also knowingly met neither a person of Native American origin nor a veteran who attends CMC. I have never interacted with a student who actively identifies as originating from “rural America,” and I have only ever met two international students who are receiving financial aid – neither of whom is receiving need-based aid.
Maybe my singular experiences and interactions at CMC cannot amount to an accurate view of CMC’s diversity. However, even the overall statistics, provided by CMC’s administration, show a deficiency in conventional diversity indices. Our Hispanic student population is well below state and national averages and our Black student population is around an eighth of the nation’s level. While these are well-known and immutable facts, I urge the administration of CMC to look beyond these elementary diversity statistics and really think about the definition of diversity at CMC.
Earlier this year, Saahil Desai wrote an article for the TSL that questioned Pomona’s demographic diversity, claiming that the majority of students came from city, or semi-urban locations. Even though only 12.1% of Americans come from rural areas, he made the claim that there was still a disproportionally low amount of students with from rural backgrounds.
The same argument could be made for CMC’s primarily urbanized student population. While CMC has tried more actively to recruit students of various ethnic backgrounds, perhaps the key in trying to succeed in such a venture equally lies with simultaneously trying to recruit from geographically diverse backgrounds.
Looking beyond the United States, CMC has boasted repeatedly of its above-average international student population. While this is true, a little research shows that 99 out of the 224 international students at CMC come from either India or China, meaning that 44% of international students come from 2 out of the 31 countries with CMC students. Furthermore, if I were to ask how many of those international students come from low-income backgrounds, or how many of those students did not come from private educational institutions before attending CMC, I am sure it would only be a handful.
However, this definitional question of what diversity at CMC means does not stop at the student level but also percolates to the administrative and professorial level. There is not a single non-Caucasian who works at the Dean of Students office at the moment. Furthermore, of the 35 professors at the Robert Day School of Economics only 1/7th of them are women. While I am not questioning the efficacy of the Dean of Students or the Robert Day School as institutional establishments, I cannot help but wonder how my experience as a student would have differed had women taught more of my classes, and had I interacted with a more diverse Dean of Students office.
The last time CMC made a documented commitment to strive for increased institutional diversity was 2002 – over 11 years ago. The Strategic Plan states that CMC administration “seek[s] a student body that is diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, geographic region, and life experiences.” Yet, the plan itself makes no direct references to how such diversity will be brought about.
It is time CMC asked itself a serious question: What are we losing out by not meeting our diversity criteria? When I asked Arielle Dennis ’14 whether she thought CMC is diverse, she immediately responded “Not even a little.” I then asked how her perceived lack of diversity at CMC affected her university experience. She responded by saying, “It sometimes makes me uncomfortable at gatherings, mostly on a physical level where I don’t really look like I fit in.” Another female friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous told me that she believed that “CMC sometimes puts this overwhelming pressure on you to look fit, be happy, and be white. Sometime I just look around class and think why don’t I look like them?”
I am not here to reprimand CMC for its lack of diversity, but I am here to challenge its notions of what a diverse college atmosphere looks like. Instead of asking ourselves the question of “How do we make CMC a more diverse environment?,” we should try to evaluate what diversity at Claremont McKenna means. It is time we elevate ourselves from basic indices of diversity. It is no longer enough to claim that we are diverse just because we have a high population of international students without first delving into socio-economic backgrounds of those students. It is not enough to claim that we have students from a variety of states without evaluating how geographic diaspora comes into play. It is time we think about how our meritocratic admissions system is affecting the diversity of our student population.
Ultimately, there is no quantitative way for me to measure what I have lost by never having been in an academic setting with a veteran, or a lower-income international student. I cannot measure how different I would have been had I been taught by more professors of color. I simply cannot miss experiences I never had to start with, but, like many, that does not stop me from pining for a reimagined definition of diversity for CMC.