Proximity to whiteness is alive and real

By Farah Bassyouni Jan22,2024

It’s not a hidden fact that Wesleyan’s campus is mostly white. Compared to my high
school and even when walking downtown at U of I, the number of black, brown, and asian faces
I see are limited. It was easy to chalk some of this up to the small liberal arts setting and even
easier to use the phrase, “Predominantly White Institution” when finding logic for the lack of
POC. But as I continue to establish my time at Wesleyan, I noticed something interesting. When
throwing around the term PWI, diversity, and equity there was a change in power. Saying this
school was a PWI started being used not as a way to highlight injustice and the need for change
but as a normalized term and simple fact of life. Its commonality deprived the term from the
intent of power the term had in conversation around racial inequality.


These conversations slowly became muted amongst issues around midterms, finals,
course requirements, and the never ending work we all seem to have. In addition, I do think it is
interesting to consider responsibility and while students can act as a force for change, is that a
responsibility expected of them upon entering the college setting? Even more so, who is expected
to spark progressive change? Why are my conversations around racial, sexual, and gender
oppressions mainly with those who have lived with these oppression first hand? The expectation
is that our academics must come first but I question the privilege of this expectation. As someone
from historically marginalized groups, it can be hard to focus on the course material when my
identity is being restricted and silenced. I know I am not alone in those feelings. Yet this isolation
is not helped in what can feel like a sea of whiteness and it can be easy to be swept away.


The proximity to whiteness offers avenues of escapism. It is one where the color of my
skin doesn’t affect my career, my friendships, my academics, or my consciousness. It is to laugh
with experiences I’ve never had and to understand a culture that created forms of internalized
hate within myself. It is so tempting to escape being the “other” to just being. It is in part, to fool
myself into thinking that I will have the same opportunities because I have the “same” education
as my white peers. An education full of white professors within a setting that prioritized the
white perspective. But with this conversation, comes numerous nuances. Tokenism has plagued
the actions within DEI work and we expect so much from the historically marginalized. Like
other topics of gender and sexuality, to talk about the issue is to be seen as the issue. This is not
to invalidate or discredit the white staff and faculty on this campus who hold conversation and
create action. It is to express how being in a place where whiteness is the norm impacts the
self-expression and understanding of myself as a POC. I want to be in a place where my
academics truly come first. Where I am not counting the number of POC in a room or finding a
picture of the author in the course material I am reading. In many ways, I don’t want to care
about race, gender, sexuality, and identity. I want to be in a place where none of that matters. But
I want that to be because of the efforts we’d made to include POC, women, LGBTQ+ and other
marginalized groups. Not due to our destruction but at the power of our survival in a place where
“PWI ” is not normalized but unneeded and inapplicable. I’m not exactly sure how we do this,
but I know it can be done and with effort, will be.

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