For some, my curly locks, olive skin and curved body throw them off and never fail to prompt the “What are you?” question. For 19 years, I have heard this question or something similar to it nearly every time I have met someone.
Despite questions about my race being invasive and completely irrelevant, I continue to answer them despite the lack of importance. Questions such as “What are you?” and “Are you mixed?” and “Are you from the United States or what country?” and my favorite, “Are you legal or do you have a green card?” have made me question why others viewed my ethnicity as the most important attribute about me.
Being born into a family with a Puerto Rican father and Polish-Mexican mother, diversity was something I never questioned because I have always been immersed in it. From an early age, I was taught that the color of my skin and the texture of my hair didn’t matter, but my morals, family relationships and education did.
While I was attempting to figure out how to be a first generation college student, my parents told me that the most important thing I could do was pursue the highest level of education possible, because no one can take that away from me.
Upon approaching my college years, I began to hear about how my ethnicity would benefit me with receiving scholarships and filling quotas for race-based admissions. These claims that surrounded me contradicted all that I had been taught by my parents.
Now the interesting thing is that people didn’t just stop with those claims, they put them into action. Since the beginning of my college career, not only have I heard people say that I am here to fill a quota, but I am continuously needed because of it. Whether it be clubs or organizations throughout campus, I am constantly reminded that my ethnicity is viewed first and my academics and work ethic are viewed second.
In an attempt to diversify the university, numerous organizations and clubs on campus require you to tell them your ethnic or cultural background, or they simply ask roundabout questions until you give them what they want to hear.
While K-State is trying to look diverse and have representatives from different ethnicities for these organizations and clubs, it has made us, the minorities, into token students. We are continuously pursued by organizations in order to look diverse and have us help them out, yet they are never fully invested in us. By making us these “tokens,” we are merely selected to be a figurehead, and for most people that is where it stops.
Students and faculty always claim they want to understand how we feel and to understand our viewpoint on certain issues or beliefs, but in doing so they fail to address how that singles us out. While the university claims that it wants to create a sense of inclusion, these questions and comments can actually make us feel more excluded.
As a minority student, I recommend selecting us for organizations and awards because of our academics, student involvement, aspirations and accomplishments rather than our ethnicity.
For all those who question how to make minority students feel less like tokens and more valued for our accomplishments, I suggest that these racially motivated questions stop. Asking racially motivated questions such as “What are you?” and “Where are you really from?” and “From the Hispanic viewpoint, what would you do?” must stop in order to move past the mindset of filling a quota with token minority students.
When selecting students for awards and organizations, view us for our accomplishments, academic involvement and community involvement just like how our majority peers are viewed. Do not view us as tokens, because we are so much more than that — we are here to make a change.
Monica Diaz is a sophomore in mass communications with a minor in Spanish. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.