I am part Mexican since one of my parents is totally Mexican. I maintain a very respectful recognition of my Mexican heritage. One of the questions that I continue to encounter in my life, and one which I believe demands an answer, is: to what extent is it permissible for me to celebrate my ethnic background in modern society? It seems ethnicity is important in the identification of one’s individuality. But it also seems that many people in modern America take ethnicity much further and many times it seems excessive and dangerous. This belief was only affirmed by my first year at this university, living in the on-campus residence halls. The residence halls on campus have certain wings dedicated to certain interests of student-residents. And some of these interest halls are actually fostering ethnic separatism.
There are three ethnic interest halls designated within the on-campus residence halls: African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic-American. It was the last one that I, personally, had a problem with when I was choosing where I wanted to live. When the inquiry every prospective student-resident fills out asked me if I wanted to live in a hall dedicated to the interest of my ethnicity alone, I was appalled. I would never live exclusively with people of the same ethnicity as myself, just as I would never live with a friend from my high school, because both would deny me of a diversified perspective during my first year at college. A diversified perspective is, in my opinion, essential in the pursuit of knowledge. Though the ethnic interest halls on campus do not ban residency to students not of that ethnicity, naming it for an ethnicity implies an ethnic requirement for residence. Many times student-residents who are the ethnic “outsiders” are ostracized for diminishing the ethnic solidarity that is the aim of the ethnic interest halls.
The ethnic interest halls do not even fully represent the ethnicities they are named after. There are “white” African-Americans and Arab African-Americans yet the African-American interest hall seems to only represent the “black” African-Americans. The Asian-American interest hall might more accurately be renamed the East Asian-American interest hall because it only seems to represent Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and maybe Filipino Asian-Americans. For those who have forgotten, India and Pakistan are in the continent of Asia, as is most of the Middle East, and parts of Russia and the former Soviet Socialist Republics. I have never heard of the Hispanic continent, so if we are trying to categorize student-residents by continent of origin we are certainly not being consistent. Some could argue that the Hispanic continent is South America but then that place of origin isn’t really being represented because the Hispanic-American interest hall is made up of mostly Mexican-Americans. Mexico is in North America. Because of the misrepresentations within these labeled halls it is clear to me what they represent, the superficial interest in physical traits and not the genuine interest in ethnic origin.
Suppose there was a European-American interest hall, in other words, a Caucasian-American interest hall. Remarking that because Caucasians represent a majority on campus so they don’t really need a hall to reside, socialize or develop exclusively with each other isn’t really valid. There are plenty of ethnically defined fraternities, sororities, and clubs affiliated with the university that are readily available for minorities’ association so they don’t really need halls to reside, socialize or develop exclusively with each other. Creating a Caucasian-American interest hall would be perceived by some as sending the message of “white” empowerment. In modern society, “Black,” East Asian, Hispanic, or any other ethnic empowerment is politically correct, whereas “white” empowerment is politically incorrect. It is this double standard that has me distressed. Do Caucasians not feel disenchanted in their college years? Insecurity, anxiety and lack of self-realization are problems for all college students regardless of ethnicity.
The intention of the university is to provide its students with a comfortable environment for learning. This is understandable. What is not understandable for me is that they somehow see that ethnic separatism or ethnic solidarity gives greater comfort. Can’t a “white” person shed a tear for and empathize with the suffering of others under slavery, oppression, starvation or war? If not, I ask how has the media become so successful and powerful in modern society? A little over 60 years ago there was a group of people in central Europe who also thought that ethnic solidarity provided greater comfort. The havoc they wreaked on the world left generations of people in tears. Now I am not saying the university is actively eliminating certain ethnicities, but they are providing certain minorities with a means to secede from a diverse community. A question for the university is: are you willing to sacrifice a little comfort to provide your students with the beneficial understanding and acceptance of other ethnicities?
Ethnic prejudice seems to arise when there is a misunderstanding about an ethnicity as a whole. If this is so, misunderstandings can be avoided with the proper amount of exposure to differing ethnicities. Providing a few minorities on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus the avenue of residing, socializing and developing exclusively with their ethnicity undermines the pursuit of eliminating ethnic prejudice. Make no mistake that ethnic minorities can be just as ethnically prejudicial as the majority. Students can only benefit from being exposed to different cultures and ethnicities than their own. It is crucial to recognize this benefit if one is to truly celebrate our society’s diversity.
The Residence Hall Association of the UCSB endorses these ethnic interest halls, and because UCSB oversees the RHA, it is safe to conclude that UCSB also endorses the ethnic interest halls. The fact that UCSB endorses ethnic separatism on its campus is sad. It was those of an ethnic minority who experienced true ethnic prejudice who fought long and hard against the separate but equal idea. Are we not forgetting about their struggles when we endorse ethnic separatism and ethnic solidarity? One could draw a comparison between the ethnic interest halls and the times before the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when neighborhoods, bathrooms, drinking fountains and schools were separated from each other based on ethnicity. However, there is a difference between his time and our time; then ethnic separatism was “white”-imposed and unacceptable, while today it is self-imposed and somehow acceptable. This is the problem, because it implies that “whites” should be colorblind and “non-whites” should not have to if they do not want to. Ethnic prejudice and hate should not be acceptable in any citizen of our country because it impairs the Constitution’s protection of equal rights. Dr. King dreamed of a colorblind society, and I would like to see that dream fulfilled.
Abolishing the ethnic-based interest halls in the on-campus residence halls would have no effect on the students of an ethnic minority exclusively socializing and developing. As I mentioned before, there are plenty of ethnically-defined fraternities, sororities and clubs affiliated with, but not funded by, UCSB.
The University of California proclaims itself to provide a good preparation for the adult society of our future. In adult society, no matter how hard one tries to resist it, one is eventually going to have to work with, live among, or associate with those of different ethnicities. E Pluribus Unum, it is part of the beauty that defines our society. If the University provides or encourages ethnic separatism, then it really is not preparing its students effectively for American adult society.
One more thing to consider: not one of us chose before birth to have a certain skin color, have a certain gender, have a certain sexual orientation, have certain intellectual or physical restrictions, or belong to a certain class and culture. These things alone should not, and traditionally do not, define our individual greatness. It is how we utilize that which has been bestowed upon us that measures our versatility and dimensionality. It is our duty to respect the chance of that bestowment, to be thankful, and most importantly to be humble.
Nicholas C. Romero is a sophomore philosophy major.