The token ƒ?oediverse pictureƒ?? is false advertising

By Tinbete Ermyas

Pictures say a thousand words. Thatƒ?TMs the message I got when talking to my younger brother on the phone this past weekend. My brother, who is in the middle of being bombarded with college prospectus guides, was telling me how he got one from Macalester. ƒ?oeWow, I love the schoolƒ?TMs focus on multiculturalism,ƒ?? he said. ƒ?oeAnd the pictures! The school looks really, REALLY diverse. That caught my eye more than anything else.ƒ??

Right then and there I had to restrain myself. My brotherƒ?TMs youthful innocence was a feeling that I had outgrown once I visited most of the colleges I had applied to, and since I am trying my hardest to refrain from infringing upon his youthful vigor, I simply gave a neutral reply: ƒ?oeYeah, multiculturalism sure is different at Macalester.ƒ??

The truth of the matter is that it is. When I visited Macalester during my senior year of high school, I was able to experience a euphoric weekend in which multiculturalism was put at the center, leaving me feeling as if Macalester had something other schools didnƒ?TMt: respect for difference.

However, it pains me to say that in the time I have been here, Macalester as an institution has failed me and my fellow students of color miserably. And thatƒ?TMs hard for me to say.

Itƒ?TMs taken me a while to acknowledge this fact, but I think that it is necessary in order for me to understand the larger ways in which race and racism operate on this campus.

I think it is evident that, for the most part, Macalester has made some huge strides in the past several years. After all, the two latest classes have yielded the largest percentages of students of color that the College has seen since the 1970ƒ?TMs.

An impressive feat indeed, but one that shouldnƒ?TMt necessarily be celebrated before we observe what else goes on at Macalester as far as multiculturalism is concerned.

My experience at Macalester has taught me one thing after the next, but I think that one of the most sailent lessons Iƒ?TMve learned is that to have a discussion of race on this campus is to have a discussion of power.
Exactly who is put in power and in what ways?

Sure, we have deans at this college who are of color, one in particular who as been central to my experience at Macalester: Joi Lewis, the Dean of Multicultural Life.
However, the recent announcement of her resignation has exposed some things about our beloved college that are a far cry from the supposed allegiance we have to multiculturalism.

I think the College has made an art out of assigning one or two minority voices on boards and committees that make powerful decisions, relegating them to being the token person of color to whom the College can turn whenever they need their guilt appeased.

And though I canƒ?TMt speak for those few individuals of color who may sit on these boards and committees, I can honestly say that I understand their feelings of frustration because we students also face the implicationƒ?TMs of the Collegeƒ?TMs hope that those who are really in positions of power and privilege wonƒ?TMt ever be exposed.

How can I be so sure? Well, letƒ?TMs take it back to the example my brother brought up: pictures.

It has been my experience that pictures are a very powerful way for Macalester to mask certain inequalities that exist within the College.

Sure, we want to paint a certain picture of Macalester. But it is a common tale amongst student of color circles that if there are promotional pictures being taken on campus, you better look nice because you will have a couple of snapshots taken. Period.

Now, I understand that this is necessary for Macalester to take pictures in order showcase their undying dedication to multiculturalism (or at least the definition the ƒ?big wigsƒ?TM have in their heads.)
But what is the point of selling an image if the product is so, well, faulty?

This false advertising of the schoolƒ?TMs commitment to diversity is lived out in the daily experiences of the same students of color of whom the photographer is taking pictures.

I personally canƒ?TMt help but feel like a mere publicity scheme when Iƒ?TMm having my picture taken for publication after publication while I watch resource after resource being taken away, modified, or ƒ?oerestructured.ƒ??

Congratulations, Macalester! Though I love you with all my heart, I have to say that Iƒ?TMm going to have to challenge the supposed love you have for multiculturalism and me. After all, tough love is the best of its kind.
And one lesson I am grateful for learning throughout my experiences here thus far is that things are not always as they seem.

And please believe that I will implore my brother to apply to Macalester. At the same time, however, I will tell him to be wary of well-executed publicity stunts and false advertising and to always be true to his feelings.
After all, just because the camera is there doesnƒ?TMt necessarily mean we have to smile.

Tinbete Ermyas ƒ?TM08 is the main contributor to the ƒ?oeFrom the Margin to the Centerƒ?? Column for The Mac Weekly Opinion Section. Contact him at [email protected]