Varied groups focus on social segregation

by Kaitlin Bell | 8/14/03 5:00am

On first glance, the two scenes could not have appeared more different.

The first featured a mix of Latino, black and white students eating EBA's pizza and corn chips and salsa around a dinner table in the Latino and Latin American and Caribbean Studies House. Sociology professor Christina Gomez, who brought along her three children, moderated a discussion on Latino retention at Dartmouth.

The second, about 15 members of Alpha Delta fraternity -- most of them dressed in beat-up running shoes, T-shirts and mesh shorts -- and a smattering of others lounging on couches in AD's first floor hall. The gathering, moderated by Ari Rosa '05, and sponsored by Mosaic as well as AD, focused on social groups and social segregation at Dartmouth.

But the two groups came to surprisingly similar conclusions: social segregation is prevalent and deeply ingrained at Dartmouth and breaks down largely along racial, socioeconomic and extracurricular lines. Most of all, it starts as soon as students arrive at Dartmouth -- and oftentimes, even before that.

"I remember I got this huge folder that said 'Asian Americans at Dartmouth' across the front," Ayumi Rogers '05 said. "Personally, I didn't even read it -- I thought it was so dumb, like they were saying, 'Oh, don't feel bad that you're not white.'"

Other minority students described receiving BlitzMail messages during orientation encouraging them to come socialize at the affinity house for their respective cultural group.

Such organizations provide a sense of family for minority students who find themselves in an unfamiliar -- and often uncomfortable -- environment, Gomez said.

"It was very hard for me to open up," Justin Rabinowitz '05 said. "I felt like I was walking down the street with a sign on my back that said 'Hey, I'm a minority!'"

Yet some minority students who choose not to affiliate themselves with these organizations said they feel disconnected from the overall ethnic community.

At LALACS, Hispanic students who are not perceived to have embraced their cultural identity are called "incogs" -- short for "incognitos," Hernan Ortiz '05 said.

"If somebody doesn't show up at LALACS the first week of school, then he's an incog," Ortiz said.

"I think if Dartmouth really wanted to promote racial interactions ... instead of sending mailings to groups before Orientation even starts they should promote common experiences," Lance Martin '05 said. "That's what you base your experiences on."

Martin suggested dinner discussions like the dialogues hosted by the Tucker Foundation or mandatory Dartmouth Outing Club trips for all classes, not just freshmen.

But many at the LALACS discussion said that often something as seemingly innocent as Outing Club trips can pose serious financial and cultural challenges for some students.

For many from urban environments, the very idea of spending the night in a tent may seem absurd, they said.

Moreover, students from less affluent families may even forgo the experience because buying the necessary equipment is simply too expensive.

At both discussions, participants debated whether the College the degree to which the College should force interactions among diverse groups.

Martin cited mandatory discussions on class, race and identity that take place at Brown during first-year students' first weeks.

But others noted that meaningful interactions have to take place in social settings that feel natural and need to come from students' own initiative.

"Every time the College puts its stamp of approval on something, people automatically get the impression that it's social engineering or that it's forced," Neel Shah '05 said.

Yet the very act of going beyond one's "comfort zone" is too intimidating for most students, participants said. Many white students are not even aware of their own privilege -- or the factors that might lead minorities to self- segregate, Blake Johnson '05 said. And on whether the onus to integrate lies on the minority or the majority, opinions diverged, although participants widely praised the importance of having an open mind -- and spreading such openness to as wide a group as possible.

"Maybe it's hard to change Dartmouth, but at least when you get out and are teaching or whatever it's in you're head and you can make a difference," Elizabeth Peacock '05 said. "That's what education is about."