AHANA: A Subtle Exclusion

by • March 12, 2015 • Featured, Life @ BCComments (3)908

When looking into colleges during the fall of my senior year, BC stood out right from the beginning. While diving through BC’s website noticing things like the impressive core curriculum and CSOM’s #4 ranking, I also noticed a term I had never seen before, “AHANA.” AHANA, an acronym for representing students of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent, really puzzled me. Why would a school essentially list their student body’s racial breakdown as “white” and “everyone else”?

unnamedAfter applying and being accepted, I received an invitation for an AHANA Accepted Students Weekend. This left me a little conflicted, as somehow solely based on the fact that I’m Hispanic, I was eligible to attend a different accepted students day than the rest of my peers. By being geared towards minority students, the brochure for the event was also targeted for low-income students. It was likely that I was low-income, apparently, based on my ethnicity, not based on my FAFSA. At the time, however, AHANA was less of a priority than ACT scores and the Common App. I had already gotten so used to receiving the countless invitations from other universities about their own minority-targeted events. So although it bothered me, I had to let it go.

Now coming to the end of my freshman year I am just as confused about AHANA as I was a year ago. Receiving emails and seeing flyers about AHANA events does not make me feel more racially “included.” If anything it makes me feel more excluded. Is it really necessary for minority students to have AHANA-designated events? Although these events are open to everyone, when I asked my white friends if they felt like they could attend these events all of them said no. In effect, AHANA creates an unnecessary campus divide.

unnamed-1Instead of celebrating minorities individually for what makes each unique and worth celebrating, AHANA has the tendency of just lumping everyone together. I’ve often felt like they try to celebrate diversity just based on the fact that members of AHANA are simply not white. I do not see the point of celebrating minorities as a collective unit when each minority within AHANA is distinct. How can we truly appreciate a culture when it’s clumped together with other cultures that do not really have anything in common? The only thing minorities have in common is a history of experiencing racial discrimination. Facing racial discrimination can absolutely bring people across cultural lines together, but that does not change the fact that they are separate cultures with different traditions and characteristics. It’s an ineffective system of celebrating racial diversity on campus.

I’m not saying that AHANA is completely flawed. Their mission of creating racial unity across campus is great; however, it has been poorly executed. The whole AHANA acronym came about to replace the “Office of Minority Programs,” which, granted, is much worse. But this change occurred in 1979 and it is clearly outdated. I’m also not saying that we should get rid of AHANA entirely. Universities need a center for racial diversity.

Although we are well into the twenty-first century, racism is prevalent in our society and can still be found in places close to home. I certainly didn’t expect it walking into my First Year Writing Seminar last semester, only to find one of my peers talking about how he is dressing up as a “Mexican” for Halloween. I also did not expect it while introducing myself to people and being told that I did not “look” Mexican (Being Hispanic is an ethnicity, we don’t look any type of way.) It’s been thirty-six years BC; it’s time to modernize this campus’ approach to racial diversity.

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3 Responses to AHANA: A Subtle Exclusion

  1. Tacia says:

    I understand your confusion when it comes to first understanding the idea of this new acronym. When I was a freshman, I too was confused as why I was getting these separate invitations and automatically grouped into a category. However, when I first arrived on campus and experienced culture shock from being on a predominately white institution, I began to understand why AHANA existed. It exists so that when I or any other AHANA student feels that culture shock, feel excluded, and feel like an “other” on campus, we can turn to a community where our cultures and identities are more accepted and welcomed. So to answer your question, yes, it is necessary to have AHANA-designated events. It’s necessary for students to be able to see their cultures represented on campus and it’s necessary for students to be able to learn and experience different cultures. That is a privilege that once we leave this university many of us will rarely have unless we take an international vacation. Being a student doesn’t only mean we’re here to learn about our designated majors, but to learn about people, cultures, and sometimes even our own identity.

    Like you said these events are open to everyone. So it is not the events themselves that are “dividing the campus”, it’s the students who are creating that divide by separating themselves from these events and groups, and essentially other students. If you go back and ask your friends or any other white student on campus why they don’t attend cultural events, I promise you no one will say that they were told they couldn’t go or that it wasn’t opened to them. For that reason it’s up to the students to break those invisible barriers. The events themselves are just the opportunity for us to do so.

    If you take a closer look at the events going on around campus there actually are events that celebrate the uniqueness of each minority. Besides having multiple events designated for Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Native American Heritage Month, there are multiple and countless culture organizations on campus that represent and host events based on the culture of specific countries and ethnicities. Being Latina myself, I have attended events from various groups and cultures on campus and besides learning from other cultures it’s interesting to see how my culture in some ways are similar to others. (There’s more in common than just the negatives of racial discrimination) Other than that, it is still important to have solidarity among all AHANA groups because we have barriers within the greater BC community, in a smaller community of AHANA we must support each other as well.

    I’m curious as to what you mean by “modernizing” the campus’ approach to racial diversity. In the AHANA community and through the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center (the offices new name which was changed just this year) there are multiple programs that exist and new ones on the horizon that work to speak on racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity on campus. The change does not need to come from the people and organizations striving for cultural awareness and inclusion but the students who stop themselves from experiencing it.

  2. Roberto Martinez says:

    Michelle, I disagree with you. And I do this on the basis of your appeal to individualism. Your life is your own, as is your racial development and identity. At the same time you choose to be identified as an individual, however, several AHANA students need this network of similar students in order to form their own identity. For me personally, it’s been this connection to other AHANA students that has allowed me to ask tough questions about my Mexican heritage, and what that means for me, and what it means to other BC students. As for the clumping of AHANA students together, I would argue that the common struggle you identify is precisely the reason I’ve thought about racial identity so much. Hearing the stories of other students – whether that be a multi-cultural student, or the sole white student at these events – pushed me towards finding commonalities and ultimately arriving at my own place of recognition. The programming that you criticize for being exclusive ultimately provided a secure space for me to grow into my racial identity. This gives me confidence, when all too often, I end up being the sole representative of my ethnicity in many other clubs/classes/events/social situations on this campus. It’s not the intention of the Bowman office or ALC to create an exclusive environment, but tailoring their programming to students of color provides for stronger interactions outside in a wider BC community.

  3. Nicholas Lawarence says:

    I, too, completely disagree with this argument. If you do not feel a need to include yourself in this community, that that’s fine- nobody is forcing you to. However, being able to have a community with a distinctive identity is an incredibly powerful thing, and is very important to many of your peers, including myself. The term itself was engineered to “celebrate our differences.” I don’t find it to be homogenizing whatsoever. As a Latino, I don’t feel less Latin because the acronym also includes Asian students. I do, however, feel connected to students who have faced similar experiences based solely on the fact that we are not white. The resources offered the the TBAIC are top-notch. For example, the RIDE retreat is one of the best offered by this campus. Having been here for three years, I’d say that the events sponsored and advertised by members of the AHANA community have been some of the highlights of my college career. They absolutely make me, and many other students, feel included. While you see this term as alienating, I see it as representative of a community that fosters connection and dialogue. I’d argue that the only “subtle exclusion” associated with the term would be its failure to directly recognize Pacific Islanders and non-Hispanic Latinos. Your argument could apply to countless identities, all of which have strong communities centered around them, and I take issue with the fact that you wish to disrupt that. Our culture is inherently one of white supremacy. Some present this supremacy maliciously, others do so unknowingly. There is not a singular “minority experience” that can be pointed to. However, there are countless experiences shared by members of any outgroup. Race, as a category of otherness, allows for a community to form to celebrate this difference.

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