All my life, white teachers and professors have told me that I can be whatever I want. The issue? I’ve never been told that by anyone that looks like me.
In my four years at UP, I have taken 40 classes — lectures, labs, and courses on everything from engineering to fine arts to sociology — and over those same eight semesters, I have had three professors of color.
Three professors of color. If you go to UP, chances are that you’ve had a similar experience. And that’s unacceptable.
I identify as Hispanic, Latinx, and Mexican, and I’m deeply proud of my heritage. However, I also have faced imposter syndrome for the full extent of my college career, and part of the reason is because I have never had a Latinx professor while at UP.
As a first-generation student from a low-income family, I have always felt that I can relate more to the Hispanic Physical Plant workers cleaning the dorm bathrooms than I can to any white professor. I’ve had more meaningful conversations with the workers emptying the library trash cans than I have had in any office hour.
Unfortunately, this lack of representation isn’t a new problem for me. As a native of southern Oregon (which has a similar racial demographic to Portland), I grew up going to schools with mostly white teachers. I was just hoping that an institution that prides itself on innovation and progress as much as the University of Portland does would give me a chance to learn from more than three professors of color.
If you don’t understand why having diverse representation in faculty is important, maybe you should take some time to think about why this doesn’t matter to you. Is it because you’re white and you’ve never noticed that most of your professors are also white?
Maybe you’ve never even thought about this, and if so, I am deeply sorry that you have lived such a privileged life.
During my time at UP, I’ve had white professors teach me about subjects that I believe professors of color would be much more apt to teach. I’ve had white professors teach me about racism in the United States, about code-switching and the immigrant experience, about race theory within literature, and many other topics that they had no firsthand experience with.
There’s something about sitting in a classroom as a Hispanic person of color listening to a white man lecture about the immigrant experience in America that doesn’t seem quite right, and it’s in those moments that I have felt let down by the University of Portland.
In my own disciplines, English and environmental science, I have had one professor of color. I have never had a non-white English professor, which seems strange, especially considering how much the English department promotes listening to a diverse range of sources.
To my white professors: I know most of you are doing your best. You all have been great, you’ve given me a pretty solid education, despite my many efforts to get by with passing grades and little more. And, I’ll say, over these four years, I’ve seen many of you incorporate themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion into the course material, which I know takes a very conscious effort.
But it’s not enough. As an aspiring journalist, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories, different perspectives, and the importance of hearing and reading a wide range of sources. And, I think most professors put in effort to ensure that the readings we read (or skim five minutes before class) are coming from diverse sources. And yes, we’re trusting our professors to pick that range of diversity.
But who are we trusting to pick those professors? Have you thought about that?
I fear that I’m asking these questions too late. I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I’ve read UP’s emails and have listened to the administration make promises of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I’m tired of expecting more. My four years are up, I’m ready to leave this school with a little more knowledge and wisdom than I had eight semesters ago, but I empathize with all of those students who are still facing the reality I just finished living.
To my fellow students of color, know that there are professors that truly care, you just have to put in some effort to find them. Sure, it’s not fair, but when has the higher education system ever been about fairness?
To UP: please hire some more professors of color, I am truly begging you.
Lastly, to the professors of color who have taught me at UP, I give you thanks, because the three of you taught me more than any other professors or class could: you taught me that I can actually do it, whatever it is that I want to do. In all of your classes, I felt comfortable, I felt like I could speak without being judged, and I felt free to learn, relentlessly and to my fullest capability.
So when I walk across that stage and get handed that diploma that I worked so hard for, I’ll be thinking of the three of you, who know the struggle that went into obtaining this expensive piece of paper.
To Dr. Simon Aihiokhai, Dr. Shaz Vijlee, and Dr. Neil Oculi, my deepest gratitude is not enough, for teaching me that no one is going to silence my voice, especially not a white professor trying to teach me about racism.
Carlos Fuentes is the copy editor of The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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