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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: North Bay / Marin | Education & Student Activism | Racial Justice
Personal Op-Ed Report
In 2007 a study was composed of racial comfort levels at Sonoma State University. Today 5 years later we do the same study to find out if things have improved. This is my personal reflection of my experience that I got from doing this study.
Stevie Compagno Jr.
Personal Op-Ed Report
Throughout the course of the semester my group developed a research project about the diversity we have on campus at Sonoma State University. In 2007 there was a similar study conducted and I was very interested to discover if the findings have changed. In our research project, we were testing to see if the comfort levels of students of color have gotten better since the 2007 study results. In preparation for this project I had hesitations approaching random students of color and questioning them about their feelings on racism. I was certain there would be a level of sensitivity about the subject, therefore I was somewhat nervous. Additionally, it wasn’t necessarily good timing due to the recent incident that involved someone writing the word “nigger” on one of the Black Students Unite posters. After much reluctance, I was very pleased with the cooperation and honest feedback I received in my interviews. I was very impressed with how the students opened up to me about the lack of diversity we have here on the SSU campus.
I received my most interesting feedback during my 10th interview. The student responded that he does not feel comfortable with the nightlife here at SSU. The student I interviewed was an African American senior who had an issue involving his race when he went to a bar called the Eight Ball in downtown Cotati. He heard a man say “Fuc*** Nigger” under his breath when he passed by him. He told me he dismissed the comment and in order to avoid a confrontation and moved on with his night, which I really admired because I don’t know if I would have acted the same way. I also found it particularly interesting that some of my interviewees preferred the fact that our campus wasn’t racially diverse and it was a determining factor in them choosing to attend Sonoma State. For example, my 5th interviewee came from a rough urban black neighborhood and he felt that SSU was paradise.
I was very pleased to know that 42.6% of my interviewees felt comfortable when asked the questions, “What is your overall comfort level on campus was in terms of your race?” This was a notable improvement from the results in 2007 where only 32.4% felt comfortable. While the 10% increase in comfort level was an improvement, these numbers are nowhere where they need to be. All students should and need to feel comfortable regarding their race on campus. Our group average on this same question regarding overall comfort level on campus was bit lower than mine but I think that may be due to the fact that I really tried to make my interviewees feel as comfortable as possible when talking with me. I believe this allowed them to open up and be more honest. The rest of my percentages were on target with the rest of the group percentages.
I feel strongly that we can improve this issue by creating more cultural events here on campus that involve the entire student body. We do have cultural groups but they tend isolate people of color and that makes no sense especially given that we have the whitest population among in the CSU system. Rather than separating these cultural groups from all the other groups, which are primarily white, we need to find ways to intertwine the two. You’ll always find that people have common interests regardless of skin color. More diverse groups will help promote acceptance of diversity and will additionally expand the organizations here at SSU. Building a diverse campus community at SSU where all races feel accepted and represented involves a series of steps that will enrich the environment by bringing varied interests, backgrounds and perspectives to the campus. Diversity allows for new knowledge, discoveries and exchanges of information on the SSU campus that will weave together a more interesting cultural texture.
It is very unfortunate that not everyone at this school feels comfortable about their race. I had no idea that this was an issue coming into Sonoma State until I took this class and participated in this study. Much more awareness of race and acceptance is needed on this campus. Unfortunately, the position of director of diversity on campus is being cut after this year and now more then ever we need someone to step up and take charge of the diversity issue at SSU. The SSU administration and campus organizations must make a commitment to enhancing the diversity of our student population. This will help us attract and retrain a more diverse student population.
I am so pleased after taking this course because I was able to find things out and really investigate the issue of racial comfort levels here on campus that I had no idea existed. My hope is that the situation will continue to improve and five years from now someone will do this study again and the percentages of comfort will have increased dramatically. SSU needs to make a commitment to actively recruiting and maintaining a diverse population of students. The spirit of the university should be to create an environment in which differences are both welcomed and appreciated.