“They Make Me Wish I Had Been Born in America”: A Story of Discrimination at Rhodes College


Photo courtesy of Ed Uthman.

Emma Knight

From prospective students, the appearance of Rhodes College is one which is impeccable and accepting; however, while the institution itself may believe in diversity, a portion of our community does not. In some cases, students from different backgrounds and cultures feel, “like [they] should not be here (Rhodes).” Although Rhodes College puts a heavy emphasis on inclusion and has implemented many organizations and events designated to help students from different backgrounds, they still have room for improvement. As a white student at Rhodes College (a predominately white institution), I do not experience nearly as much backlash as my friends and fellow students who have different heritages and ethnicities than I, but that treatment does not make me blind to the ignorant and blatant racism on campus. I have seen my friends in tears due to the feedback and comments from other students and professors.

As a freshman from a small town, I came to Rhodes College excited for the opportunity to expand my knowledge and appreciation for other cultures. I did not expect to bear witness to as much social unrest as I have in the beginning of my first semester. These grievances which have swept across campus, have consisted of: students committing racist “pranks” (harmful, violent and unnecessary acts), the insensitivity of some of the professors, and even in some cases the unresponsiveness of the college. Although the college makes a great effort to be inclusive, isolating actions (including acts of racism) still occur on this campus against their will. Rhodes College students and professors from different ethnic backgrounds, find it difficult on some occasions to be themselves. One freshman even found that on campus they, “… can still be [themself] but it is still hard, and can hurt sometimes.” It is disappointing to see such knowledgeable people lack the ability to accept someone from a different culture as themselves. 

Students have felt victimized on the Rhodes College campus for more than their race and ethnicity this year. For some, they have been targeted for their sexual orientation or their own identity. Some students who identify as LGBTQIA+, have also felt threatened by people on campus who have been unwelcoming and unaccepting. In some cases, they have to avoid certain people in their day to day life in order to feel safe. It is sad that our society still includes so much ignorance and intolerance. No person at Rhodes College, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, should ever feel like they do not belong or are unwelcome.

To combat this racism and discrimination on campus, Rhodes has held several discussions and forums along with required courses designed to teach students how a person (faculty or student) of this upstanding school should treat others, and how they can defend their peers when they witness an incident. Through diversity education and community initiatives, Rhodes College is working to ensure that no one feels unaccepted or that they must hide their true identity. 

In the classrooms, multilingual students can often feel uneasy, especially if the language predominantly spoken in the classroom is not their first language. When speaking of the difficulty of engaging with the class, one student remarked, “I feel as a person who speaks multiple languages, it is definitely harder.” For students who speak English as a second language, some professors can be too quick to give up on them, instead of providing helpful feedback and support. One student rightfully became distressed when their professor suggested they consider dropping the course, rather than offer the student additional assistance or advice. When questioned about what this student did about the situation, they explained, “[they] didn’t tell anyone about this because as much as [they] would like to advocate for [themself], [they] feel no one else is having the same problem as [them].” It is because of this feeling of isolation students must join together and create an environment of support for one another; it is imperative all people on campus advocate for their peers to create change. 

Rhodes College, as most institutions in America, continues to struggle with diversity and inclusivity; as a community, we cannot sit idly and wait for change to happen. Some of the ways that professors can be more welcoming and understanding of multilingual students and those from different ethnicities and backgrounds, is providing supportive feedback which does not belittle the student. Professors should create a space for all students to feel comfortable and supported, rather than ignoring their needs and emotions. Professors, “shouldn’t make you feel like you don’t belong.” Rhodes College is a community, and must come together to create an environment where people from all backgrounds feel safe and can thrive. Even with the racism and discrimination on campus, there are many people at Rhodes College who advocate for students who are multilingual, of all ethnic, and racial backgrounds to make this campus feel safe, and ensure that no one ever feels alone or unwanted.