By Arianna Salgado
As a Brown, queer, and undocumented woman, I have spent most of my life feeling unwelcomed. Although I did not yet have the language to be able to name what I was experiencing, at a very early age I learned what racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism meant. It meant being afraid of going to stores, banks, or just about every other place because I could not stand by watching my mother be humiliated for not speaking English. It meant being called a “wetback” and told to go back to Mexico because my skin color gave me away as a foreigner. It meant having my blood boil as my mother was verbally and even physically attacked by her employer for being “a stupid woman.” And it meant that people didn’t even want to shake my hand after finding out that I am queer.
These subtle not so subtle indignities, along with my experience in the educational system, made it very clear that my kind were not welcome and not recognized. I went through 12 years of formal education without mentors or role models who looked like me or shared my worldview. Until I came to the university, I had never heard about Angela Davis, Yuri Kochiyama, Fred Hampton, Lolita Lebron, Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin, or Fannie Lou Hamer to name only a few, who were (and in some cases continue to be) freedom fighters who all shared the common goal of bringing justice to communities of color and underrepresented groups. I went through 12 years of formal education without anyone ever mentioning Samuel George Morton’s Crania Americana and similar works that laid the groundwork for the racism that is still present in this country. My formal education also failed to explain to me the history of the US as a global capitalist power and how immigration and cheap labor became central to its position. These lessons were kept from me, until I became a history student at Dominican University.
From the moment I became a student here, I felt it to be a welcoming space- this was a relief after years of not feeling welcomed or safe in my previous educational environments. The accessible application process that allowed undocumented students the chance to be considered on a level playing field to the immense support I have received in my academic endeavors and the opportunities for co-curricular service have all contributed to guiding my way to very fulfilling work as a youth organizer. And while I understand it to be this way for me, I always keep in mind two very important things: the first is that spaces always become welcoming and accessible through the work and struggle of people who came before, and just because a space is welcoming to me does not mean that it is welcoming to all. These are two very important things to remember and reflect on as we all come together to engage in the diversity efforts at Dominican.
I believe that the diversity efforts that we have witnessed over the past several months on campus, particularly among students, are designed to bring attention to and encourage critical analysis of systems of inequalities and institutional forms of oppression to understand how we can help in the creation of a just and humane world with our DU community as the starting point. As we have begun to analyze the factors that have created and maintain inequality and injustice, we invariably come across the ways in which those in power have shaped and limited the experience of communities of color, women, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, and other groups. We cannot deny that those who have been historically in positions of power have been mainly white men. The recognition of this along with the understanding of the development of racism, sexism, and homophobia, and the denial of humanity towards those who were not white and male, moves us toward an understanding of the legacy of oppression and inequality that continues to impact minority and marginalized groups to this day.
This does not mean that we are to blame every white male we encounter; of course we acknowledge that they personally did not create the systems of inequality and oppression that are currently in place. But the indisputable reality is that these systems do place them at an advantage and in a position of privilege, and they benefit from them at every stage of their lives, from their longer life expectancies, to their diminished chances of being arrested and incarcerated, down to the more favorable interest rates they receive on credit cards and car loans. These are facts, but these facts alone do not mean that white males are the only people who have privilege. We all benefit from some sort of privilege in our own individual context. Acknowledging these privileges and the structurally embedded systems of inequality that created them is a first step for us to engage in dialogue, and, more importantly, to join together in action, to change these systems in order to insure a truly just and humane world.
I believe that the core of engaging in any efforts that promote diversity and equality is the component of story sharing. Sharing our experiences, listening and truly being listened to are crucial to reaching our goal of inclusivity in this community. The sharing of our experiences and careful listening can only help us to create a shared community, strengthened by genuine bonds of understanding and acceptance, so that we can count on the mutual support and solidarity necessary when we find ourselves in new, challenging, and oftentimes uncomfortable environments. My hope is that the ongoing diversity efforts will result in even more safe and open spaces where story sharing and dialogue lead to deep and authentic understanding of all of our experiences, where the roots and persistence of these pervasive systems of inequality and oppression can be exposed and debunked, and where we come to understand how we are all impacted by them. I want all of us to be at the table to continue to build on the work of our peers, professors and staff here at Dominican to transform this school into an even more welcoming, safe home for all of us. I invite everyone to join us at the table in solidarity, in caritas and veritas.