The Black Diplomat's Dilemma
There is a problem with the inordinate amount of responsibility "Predominantly White Institutions" put on their students of color. Whether we like it or not, we must always be diplomats; we are enlisted to help them attract and admit more people like us. This responsibility alone is stressful. From the meetings we lead, to the clubs we join, to the frustrating conversations we have with peers, being a student of color can be a very heavy burden beyond the already daunting task of just getting through college. Yet nothing compares to the ethical challenge we face when we find ourselves face to face with prospective students of color. We want so badly to have more bright, diverse minds on our campus—to change the culture and bring their magic to campus, a magic that we need more of. We know that they won't be walking into a park of sunshine and rainbows. There will be battles fought against stereotypes, bigotry, unaccepting students, ignorance, entitlement, and a system that wasn't made for them. However, through the blood, sweat, tears, prayers, and sacrifice of those before them, a space has been carved out for new students of color to find a home in what had always been a white space.
But that space isn't nearly big enough. That's why we need those new students to come in and make waves of their own. It's also why a roiling feeling of guilt wraps around my insides during "Meet-and-Greets" with University Ambassadors. That's the time when I am supposed to assuage the fears of those students and convince them to attend my university. And as an honor-bound student of Washington and Lee, I never lie.
That’s why I'll tell them the story of my professor emailing me to ask how I was feeling while I was sick in bed.
I’ll explain to them how caring and helpful our counseling center is, no matter what demons you bring to the table.
I’ll share with them the unforgettable memories I’ve made with girls from my hall and peers in the myriad of clubs that I care about.
However, I won't tell them about how I've broken down, bawling outside of Lenfest in my peer counselor's arms, struck by the weight of the injustice faced by students of color on our campus.
I don't tell them about how many women of color I know suffering from depression and/or anxiety on our campus.
I refuse to tell them about always feeling like an outsider in this place that’s supposed to be my second home.
For every good, there is a crippling bad.
But I’m not a liar if I omit just some of the truth, right?
At the end of the day, I find myself looking in the mirror, wondering if it is a devil or an angel staring back at me. Only someone truly evil would convince someone else to join this hellish atmosphere. Yet, aren't I doing the ultimate good deed by helping to diversify my campus? The internal wrestling continues. Did I do well for my community by trying to ensure that we will have the best and brightest future generation of students? Or did I just screw over a clueless 17-year-old? Were they doomed the minute they visited this campus? Do they seal their unjust fate when they sign on to be part of our university “family,” a family that most likely won't fully accept them?
Well Ramonah, if you feel this way, then why do you do what you do?
I continue to give tours as a University Ambassador because when I'm on them, I remember all of the reasons why I originally fell in love with my school. And while my school may have many problems, I recognize that a degree with our letters on it will get you far. So I continue to fight because I know that there are strong women and men of color out there who will thrive thanks to the opportunities my university can afford them. The price of it, though, might just be their sanity. If you're not strong enough, our school will tear you apart and leave you hollow. But part of my purpose on this campus is to change that. Even though I sometimes question my own sanity and morality in this fight to change W&L for the better, on Wednesday morning you can find me walking backwards through Commons leading a tour and hoping that somewhere in the crowd, there is a student of color who is ready and willing to take the plunge, become a General, and continue carving.