From an institutional perspective, it is clear that Benilde-St. Margaret’s values diversity. Unfortunately, student attitudes don’t reflect this. Too often students joke that black students are here on basketball scholarships, see PRO as an excuse to get out of class, and meet Father Ray East’s sermons with a certain level of tentative distrust.
Race is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, and students at BSM are experts in ignoring it by stripping it of its importance.
Our curriculum does a good job of incorporating multi-culturalism into our core fields of study: one third of the books read in American Literature are by African-American authors, our language departments provide us with different cultural perspectives, and our social studies classes discuss all kinds of social issues; however, when we just speckle diversity into all of our classes, it’s easy to blow off.
When teachers try to lead talks on race they are met with silence during class and jokes after, the pervasive student mentality being that if we don’t talk about it, we don’t have to confront the issue. So while reading “Their Eye’s Were Watching God” is a step in the right direction, a failed discussion does nothing to educate an ignorant student on black life in America.
Our mission statement says that we “educate leaders for a global society,” and right now that’s not true. If we want BSM to produce global leaders, the conversation about race needs to happen and, given the level of aversion most students feel towards the topic, this can’t happen in the context of an English class. If we truly care about scholastic worldliness we need to move discussions about race into a legitimate class on diversity (like they do college), and subsidize and increase student opportunities for school-led trips abroad (like Señora Guzman does for the Guatemala mission trip). We need a forum where sensitive issues can be talked about openly and different perspectives can be heard. We need to give students the opportunity to feel uncomfortable, and then move past it.
The workplace is changing, and BSM students will no longer have the luxury of homogeny when they leave these walls. We are going to encounter all kinds of people not only at our jobs, but also in our continued education and personal life. Given today’s global economy, BSM students need to be prepared for a world in which not everybody is just like them. Being culturally aware is one thing, but possessing cultural understanding is another; let’s collectively strive for the latter.