Towards an honest multiculturalism at Mac


Graphic by Katherine Irving ’22.

Antonio Barreras, Columnist

The Examiner is a column dedicated to discussing and examining campus issues and the Macalester experience.

As my time at Macalester comes close to an end, I have found myself thinking about Macalester’s commitment to multiculturalism more so than before. At times it feels genuine and that people of color truly belong at Macalester. The college’s president is a woman of color, the Department of Multicultural Life (DML) is consistently organizing events that create spaces for different identities and the board of trustees (a group of people that is notoriously out of reach) changed the name of a building after protests led by members of PIPE. These things are also the bare minimum. Why shouldn’t a college that constantly waves the flag of multiculturalism have a female president, or a department dedicated to making students of color feel welcomed or god-forbid change a building’s name because it was named after a well-known white supremacist?
The more I think about the college’s multiculturalism and what that means for students of color, the more tokenistic it seems. You only have to take a look at the college’s website to see what I mean. Videos and pictures showcasing the student body talking, studying or laughing almost always highlight a student of color or an international student (bonus points if they are both!). I could be persuaded to think that this is an honest attempt at showing Macalester as a place that will embrace you with open arms regardless of how you look. It might be that. But it also feels like an attempt to leverage current students to attract potential first years who want to have a “diverse” experience in college.
The experience is there, mind you. The thing is that you really have to look for it. The events that are organized and hosted by the DML are a great opportunity to learn about people of color and the work that they do on- and off-campus. However, in my experience these events are rather small and their attendance is not as large as they should be. Oftentimes speakers are pioneers in their field and the events do not reflect their importance both in scale and attendance. If Macalester’s mission is to promote multiculturalism then these events should be larger and have greater importance. They should not be treated as a side event that is easy to miss on the Mac Daily. If my conversations with other students are anything to go by, then a lot of students do not read the Mac Daily and as a consequence, potentially miss all of these events. There needs to be a better way to communicate when these events are happening so that everyone, not just students of color, attend them. Their importance lies in that they bolster multiculturalism by highlighting issues such as systemic racism, as well as solutions to those problems.
If these academic events are not prioritized at an academic institution, then what about non-academic spaces? Well, they do not get enough attention from the college either. Most, if not all, of the non-academic multicultural spaces at Macalester are organized by students in the form of clubs. Afrika!, PIPE, BLAC, Adelante, MASECA (just to name a few) are clubs that serve as spaces to raise awareness on issues affecting people of color. At the same time, they also highlight the diverse cultures, traditions and identities that are on campus.
These clubs are in a way part of the college, after all they would not exist without Macalester’s approval. But they also feel like they run separately from Macalester’s mission and commitment to multiculturalism, not alongside it. While clubs currently work with the DML, they should play a larger role in making Macalester a space that embraces and cultivates multiculturalism. Clubs serve as a great way to connect with other people of color and to highlight issues that are happening at Macalester and the Twin Cities community at large. But they have little say on what changes need to happen to make the college a more welcoming and diverse institution. We saw this when PIPE organized the movement to rename the Humanities building. It took several weeks, multiple protests, emails, conversations and write-ups to convince the board of trustees to change the building’s name. The refusal to listen to the needs and wants of students of color shows just how little the college is doing to involve students in discussions regarding multiculturalism.
Although my experience with multiculturalism at Macalester has been positive, I know that is not the case for everyone. I often hear other people of color complaining that they feel Macalester is not a place for them. They feel supported by other people of color, but forgotten by the college. And I get that. Macalester’s commitment to multiculturalism has to go beyond having a “diverse student body.” The conversations on multiculturalism and the struggles of people of color have to be given greater importance. It is not enough to just host a couple of small talks and say that you are creating a space for solidarity. The worst part is that when student orgs create these spaces and educate others on what is happening, the school provides little support. An email, or simply giving them a physical space for talking is not enough. These organizations and its members should be in constant conversation with the college about how to better improve the experience of students of color and the student body at large. After all, multiculturalism benefits everyone.

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