The following story is part two of the special feature about diversity on this campus. Part two will focus on students who identify as Muslim, Asian or LGBTQ who answer the question, what’s it like to be considered a minority on campus?
Disclaimer: The students interviewed represent only a small sampling of diverse backgrounds. The students in this article cannot possibly speak for their entire cultural community, as they offer only one perspective.
Ali Ahmed, a junior student who is Muslim, believes that Islam is a culture in addition to being a religion. Ahmed, whose parents are from India, was born and raised in America, said being Muslim gives him a different perspective as a student. “It’s almost like we’re representatives of our religion and our culture,” Ahmed said. “We have to be careful about what we say so that it doesn’t shine a negative light on Islam.” According to Ahmed, the experience of growing up Muslim varies widely in parts of the world. “It’s very dependent upon the society you grew up in,” Ahmed said. “It might be a little bit more of a challenge (in America) as a Muslim,” Ahmed said.
He attributes this to certain stereotypes of Islam as portrayed in the media, like oppressing women or being a violent religion. “With extremists, it’s their own radical interpretation of the scripture,” Ahmed said. “It’s inexcusable, because it’s vastly agreed upon because those things are not okay to do… If a single, radical Muslim commits some kind of heinous act, the whole religion is hit by that.
But if someone who is a different faith committed a similar crime, it’s like, ‘oh, he has mental issues and is an outlier.’” For Ahmed, acceptance is more important than tolerance. “Tolerance is withstanding something you don’t necessary like,” Ahmed said. “I think the next level of acceptance is to ask questions and try to understand.”
Siti Syarizan Mohd Nizom
Siti Syarizan Mohd Nizom, a sophomore who is Muslim, finds herself among a religious minority at Xavier even though she is in the majority in her home country of Malaysia. For Nizom, she sometimes feels like she has to censor what she says in the classroom so it’s not misconstrued. “I have no problem talking in class in my own country, but over here it’s very different for me to speak what I feel,” Nizom said.
For Nizom, one of the biggest challenges at Xavier is finding people who understand her culture, including finding food that is halal, meaning it is prepared properly as dictated by Islamic law. But there are other challenges, too. “Not all people know that I can’t drink, that I can’t shake hands with guys,” Nizom said.
“It’s something that people usually know in Malaysia. Over here you have to make people understand.” Nizom also said that people assume she wears a hijab, a headscarf, because men ask her to. “That’s not it at all,” Nizom said. “It’s part my religion. It’s part of being a Muslim … It’s not difficult if you really want to do it.”
An anonymous student, who will remain unnamed because he is not openly gay, feels as though he has to hide his identity. According to the student, many gay students are afraid to come out at Xavier because the community is “so underground.” “They’re afraid to come out because it’s such a small university, so word spreads,” the student said.
According to the student, it’s important to have the family support when coming out. “The coming out process is such a personal thing and it’s something you have to take when you’re ready,” the student said. “When you don’t have support from your family, and you’re coming out, at least for me, that’s the scariest thing in the world.
It actually is one of the things I fear so much.” The student said he still struggles with his religion’s stance on homosexuality. “When I die, will I not get into heaven because of it? I think about it a lot.” For the anonymous student, there are some days where he does not feel like he fits in at Xavier because of both his black and gay identity. “There are days when I think to myself, I’m counting down the days until I graduate and move on, because Xavier is a great university but its community sometimes feels like it’s very isolated, very ignorant, very stagnant.”
Amari Alexander, a first year student who is openly bisexual, thinks it’s odd that students make an assumption that she is straight. “It’s just weird, because it’s an automatic assumption
that people think other people are straight,” Alexander said. “But I can’t be like, oh, I’m gay, either.”
Alexander said that sometimes in social situations, she has to tell people when they’re being politically incorrect. “Sometimes some of my friends makes jokes like, ‘oh bisexuals can’t be trusted, they have way too many options,’” Alexander said. “And I just think, that’s so not true.” Though transitioning to college comes with many obstacles, Alexander said that she’s comfortable with her identity. “I don’t view it as an obstacle,” Alexander said. “I just think it’s something that sets me apart more so than anyone else.”
Katie Bauer, a first-year student who was adopted from China, said that she is “used to” being a minority in a mostly white community. “I grew up in a sea of people that did not look like me,” Bauer said. “I know that (I) stick out, but I’m used to it. I’m used to people looking at me and thinking, oh, she doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes.”
According to Bauer, her parents have always made an effort to connect Katie and her sister, who is also adopted from China, to Chinese culture. “They’ve always told us that we were adopted,” Bauer said. “They’ve always taught us about our culture. They’ve made us very aware of what lives we could have lived, or used to live at least.” Bauer said that she can’t always identify with people of a similar cultural heritage.
“As far as identifying myself as different (from my parents), I guess I never really felt that,” Bauer said. “There was no language barrier. Slipping into American culture was really, really easy for me.”
According to Bauer, Xavier is welcoming of diversity. However, some people make assumptions about her, like assuming she’s from an Asian family.
“If I show pictures of my family, (people) will kind of go, ‘oh, okay,’” Bauer said of students’ surprise.
Andrew Matsushita is a 2014 alumni who is of Japanese, Chinese and Jamaican heritage. After completing four years at Xavier, he said he was subject to stereotypes, especially in the classroom. According to Matsushita, he’s experienced “whispered” moments of stereotyping. Matsushita once overheard a student in class refer to him by saying, “there goes the grading curve,” when realizing Matsushita was in the classroom. “I took it as a challenge, that they would regret that they said that I was top of the class, that I was recognized for my work,” Matsushita said.
“People just assume I didn’t have to work hard … but I had to work as hard as anyone else.” Matsushita said that in some of his experiences at Xavier,
it felt as though he was only being valued for his diverse background. “It’s one of those things where you often get carried around like a trophy,” Matsushita said. “That’s kind of where it gets a little uncomfortable.”
Matsushita said that because there is such a small percentage of Asian students on campus, sometimes finding resources was difficult. “I was a minority amongst minorities,” Matsushita said, “And when I was looking for resources to assist me with these issues, (it was difficult) because some of the resources on campus aren’t geared towards helping Asian American students.”