Higher education leadership need to actively engage with and listen to BIPOC students.
Written by: Thea Louise Thomaseth Bugge
February is Black History Month, so in this blog post we are sharing statements from people of color about their experiences in higher education. In order to recognize diverse voices throughout the year, the MAPS student blog will feature a different BIPOC columnist each month
This month, we asked four people of color about their perspectives of inclusivity in higher education based on their own experiences in higher education. The contributors are from Ethiopian, Kenyan, the Ivory Coast, and Indian-Norwegian backgrounds. Two of them live in the U.S., and the other two live in Norway. By offering perspectives of students of color in both the U.S. and Norway, this blog post can give unique insights to higher education stakeholders interested in creating inclusive, equitable spaces.
(Disclaimer: The statements come from four people that are known to the blog-post author. Their names are kept anonymous to protect their privacy).
Person #1 is a woman who currently attends Oslo Metropolitan University. She is also a teacher herself.
Person #2 is a man who went to the Oslo Metropolitan University. Person #3 is a woman who currently attends a University in California. Person #4 is a man who currently attends a University in California.
Statement Prompt #1: (When you went to the university) Did you ever feel like you were treated differently because of your skin tone, accent, gender, or anything else?
Person #1: Not really, I mean there were students who were really nice and inclusive and others weren't. But I don't want to generalize and say that I was treated differently. In Scandinavia or Norway in particular, racism is very subtle. People would never be racist to your face, so when they are racist it is difficult to see it and prove it. I have never experienced any form of sexism, I mean that's highly unlikely in the Norwegian society having that the society is built on the notion of equality Person #2: No, I have not been treated differently than the White students. I don't think that happens in Norway. However I have noticed that there is less diversity at the Norwegian Business School University (B.I), and more diversity at the University of Oslo. I think that this contributes to why a lot of the top richest people in Norway are White men over 50 years old. But then again, I think that this is less of a problem with the universities and society and more of a life values thing. However what I do think we have a problem with at all levels of school is prejudice based on economic status. Person #3: I went to a predominantly white institution (PWI) where I guess there were around ten black students. Which I was aware of and partially prepared for ahead. Because of my skin color, nationality, and gender, I was treated differently and often stood out from my friends, but I am fortunate to have had a community that encouraged and supported me. For most of my undergrad, I also made it a point to remain hidden and only communicate when spoken to. An example of a time I felt I was treated differently was during my sophomore year of undergraduate, specifically in one of my science classes. As a student in my general chemistry class, there were times where my professor would grade my homework assignments differently compared to that of my peers. I found this out when I once helped one of my peers with the collaborator homework assignment. She copied my work, and we both wrote down the same thing (calculations on the assignment). But when I received mine back, I didn’t receive full points like my peer student did. I went to speak with my professor because I thought maybe there was some sort of confusion or miss-grading, but to my surprise, my professor quickly dismissed the incident and told me ‘focus on your own work.’ I didn’t know what that meant since I was the one that helped my peer with the homework assignment. I didn’t know what to do next and was a little fearful so I brushed it off. Person #4: I wouldn't say any specific event, but I think sometimes there is more pressure on us to perform well as international students. Especially coming from Africa, to show that we are not here by luck but actually we have the skills and knowledge like everyone else. Also, when English is not your first language (I mainly saw it happening to students from Asia), sometimes even when you have the necessary knowledge, in group work some mates don’t trust you to do some tasks because they believe you might not be able to express the idea as well as they could do. Sometimes also you deal with unnecessary favoritism, when people give you an opportunity or let you do something just because you are black, so that they either don’t look racist or they can meet their DEI ratio, while you could have get it by yourself.
Statement Prompt #2: Were there programs or initiatives at the school that focused on diversity and anti-racism?
Person #1: I attended a Norwegian bachelor degree program, which means 99% of the students were Norwegian. Therefore no such programs exist in that context. But I think they do have initiatives for international students to make them feel included in society. Person #2: I can't think of anything specific to the University. But I think that the Norwegian children's and high school's lay out the foundations for people to feel equal in University. For example, students with disabilities are no longer kept in specialized classes outside from the rest, but are included in regular classes with an assistant. And the curriculum teaches values of equality early on. I think that this works well in combination with large university class sizes, as everyone gets included and exposed to each other. Person #3: During my undergrad years, there was no club promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI). But students who realized its value formed a small community to care for individuals affected by it. Us in this community supported and showed up for each other despite the school's lack of support. Person #4: I have not experienced anything that deeply affected me, so I did not look for any programs. However, there was always a person of contact in the school who I knew I could revert to if I was facing discrimination in any kind.
Columnist of the month
This month we are featuring Sydney Montgomery.
Sydney Montgomery is passionate about equity of access to and success in higher education. She has written and worked extensively on helping marginalized and underrepresented groups succeed, with a current focus on increasing their abilities to go to law school. In a February 2023 interview for Forbes Magazine, she stated that some of the largest barriers to underrepresented groups enrollment in law school include; lack of information, lack of finances for all the associated enrollment costs, and imposter syndrome. In the same interview, she called out the importance of leaders to understand and work on improving their social impact.
Some of Sydney's accomplishments include;
-Becoming the Chief Executive Officer of Outline It, Inc, which helps students improve their writing skills to increase upward mobility through its interactive writing platform.
-Becoming the host of the 'Break into Law School podcast', which has more than 33K+ downloads.
-Becoming the Executive Director and Founder of Barrier Breakers®, Inc.
-Awarded a 2020 IECA Making a Difference Award -Awarded a 2021 Counselor of the Year (PCACAC) award
-Being "named one of Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century"