This one in a series of curated student posts from a class taught by Dr. Amy Parziale.
This Spring, the Rollins Department of English course “Women Write the Body” examined female authors and their depiction of embodiment. The first major author read for class was Zora Neale Hurston. Thanks to serendipitous timing, students were asked to extend their knowledge outside the classroom by blogging about their experiences attending the Communities Conference co-sponsored by Rollins and Association to Preserve Eatonville Community (P.E.C.).
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of English, Rollins College
Education Narratives in the Communities Conference
As Zora Neale Hurston once said, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.” For children, education provides the first and only opportunity to “jump at the sun.” Education is critical to everyone.
Unfortunately, however, education is one of the spheres in which underprivileged people or those from any marginalized community get the short end of the stick. Each individual student comes from a different background, and educators and peers should learn about these differences and how to handle them. This is essential to a healthy student body, faculty, and staff, and this was the main theme of the “What’s Going On In College Campuses” education discussion at the 28th annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival. In the session, we talked about how to both celebrate and be realistic about diversity on the modern campus in order to ensure that every student gets a fair chance.
Dr. Emily Russell of the Rollins College English department mentioned right off the bat that she notices class dynamics on the Rollins campus. As a student at Rollins myself, this struck me as true. Due to Rollins’ tuition rates, students of middle- and upper-class backgrounds are common here, and Dr. Russell has noticed that students from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to ask for special exceptions or extensions, a pattern that I have noticed in the classroom as well. Quite accurately, Dr. Russell noted that more privileged students are likely to know about resources that are available to them should they need help—such as extensions or the occasional exception—whereas underprivileged students may not even have that idea occur to them. As she mentions this, I am taken back to class registration for this semester when a class I wanted was full and a classmate of mine said that I should “just email the professor, they’ll definitely let you in.” It was interesting to me how my friend had assumed that I would be given the special exception as though we were all entitled to it.
On the topic of racial diversity, Mae Fitchett discussed how students perceive each other and using the example of herself, she made the point that the first thing she is recognized as when someone sees her for the first time, is black. It is this way for students too; Dr. Russell has noticed incivility on campus, especially experienced by students of marginalized backgrounds. Oriana Jimenez, Rollins’ Title IX director, noticed that trauma affects students differently based on their class, religion, or racial background, and noted that accused parties from privileged backgrounds often feel entitled to a free pass. This is something I have noticed too amidst Title IX-related incidents on campus. It’s a harsh truth, but we can do something about it by being more aware of diversity and educating our students—or, in my case, my peers—about the various backgrounds that students may come from.
During the session, I was truly enlightened to aspects of diversity—particularly racial diversity—and the ways that they can affect students and faculty and staff alike. We should embrace diversity rather than pretending it doesn’t exist; otherwise, the identities of marginalized students are being erased. AJ, a UCF student on the panel, perhaps said it best: People who say that they “don’t see color” (or any aspect of diversity) are ignoring a vital and beautiful part of who someone is.