The importance of Friday afternoon conversation

By Amanda Westley, Emiko Guthe

We wish to expand the dialogue concerning multiculturalism at Macalester. Let us introduce ourselves.
One of us is the daughter of parents who both have advanced degrees. She grew up in a private preparatory school on the East Coast, played Lacrosse, and traveled through more international than domestic airports. Her parents pay full freight at Macalester. She is biracial.
One of us is the daughter of parents who graduated from high school, but never attended a four-year institution. She grew up in a small town public school in one of the most poverty-stricken counties in her state, watched her parents work 2-4 jobs apiece to make ends meet, and had never seen an ocean before coming to Mac. Her parents’ primary contribution to her educational costs is that they are poor enough that she qualifies for a ton of financial aid.

Which one of us is the minority student?
We are concerned that multiculturalism at Mac pigeonholes select groups by placing added value on certain types of diversity. It appears to us that dialogues surrounding students of color often also assume that they are of lower socioeconomic status. In true Macalester form, neither of us fit the mold as commonly discussed in The Mac Weekly. Both of us have consistently felt off-put from the multicultural scene at Mac for its exclusive concern with a narrowly defined population in which we do not feel welcome.

While Emiko fits the traditional racial profile of a minority student, her socioeconomic status often divorces her from the multicultural discourses on this campus. Though she is biracial, growing up in a predominantly white community never helped her question her multiracial identity. Often labeled the Asian girl without ever understanding what that meant, she came to Macalester looking for answers to these questions. It was not through multicultural programming that she found these answers, but rather in the conversations and experiences she has with fellow students, whether or not they fit the standard definition of minority student.

Amanda, whose grandparents came from Norway, Sweden and Germany, does not fit the traditional profile of a minority student. Growing up in an a mostly white community where the main method of social distinction was economic, she was shocked upon arriving at Macalester when people assumed that because she was white she was also at least comfortably middle class. Amanda continues to look at the support programs for students of color and wishes she had something similar to help her adapt to life at Mac.

After four years of spending Friday afternoons discussing articles from The Mac Weekly in which socioeconomic status and race are constantly conflated in opinion articles, we wish to broaden the conversation.
It is time to recognize that Macalester is an elite institution. Elitism in academia is a larger cultural issue for which the college cannot be held solely responsible. However, Mac does have a responsibility to do as much as possible to create a more equitable society. In last week’s “Spotlight” Ana Najera-Mendoza posited that one of the main problems facing multiculturalism at Macalester is that, “the pillar of multiculturalism can’t fall on the shoulders of very few people.” We agree that multiculturalism at Macalester cannot continue to rely on very few people. However, as we examine multiculturalism here at Macalester, we believe that the discussion needs to be broadened to allow the participation of more than a few select groups.

At Macalester, we are taught to understand issues in more than black and white, but rather in shades of gray. These shades of gray need to be added to the multicultural debate on campus. We believe that the Friday afternoon conversations between friends and individuals comparing not just skin color or socioeconomic status, but the totality of an individual’s life experience have revealed Macalester’s most important meaning of multiculturalism. It is through the expansion of this type of dialogue that our community will be better able to fully support the pillar of multiculturalism. Macalester as an institution needs to recommit itself to multiculturalism in a fashion that is inclusive of more students and a more diverse set of individuals and cultures.

Contact Emiko Guthe ’06 at [email protected], and Amanda Westley ’06 at [email protected]