A Public Letter to the Faculty and Administration of the University of Puget Sound

Guest blog by Mariana Molina, Senior at the University of Puget Sound

I am writing this letter out of concern. Lately, there has been a lot of talk about increasing the diversity on this campus, but to be honest, I hope that the University of Puget Sound does not increase its enrollment of students of color anywhere in the new future. This is due to the fact that I don’t believe that this campus is fully prepared to support a truly diversified student body.

Before I expand on my concern, it is important to situate myself. I am undocumented. My parents brought me to this country when I was three years old, a decision they made out of pure necessity. They left behind their friends and family, a majority of whom they haven’t seen since. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I started to realize what it meant to be undocumented in this country; how my “illegal” status would affect me, my opportunities, and my future. I learned that I wouldn’t be able to get a license, board a plane, travel outside of the U.S. or hold the kind of job I wanted to. I couldn’t do many of the things that my friends did. I was always having to lie when my friends asked why I wasn’t having the same experiences they were. Rather than explaining to them that I couldn’t, I would pretend that I didn’t want those experiences – pretending made things easier for them. I couldn’t explain to people that I was undocumented due to fear of my own deportation or the deportation of my parents.

When the executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was signed, some of the realities changed. I can drive and travel within the country. I have a social security number, but I still can’t leave the country unless I want to exile myself for the next 10 years. When I got my letter granting me this new status two years ago, my housemates, rather than celebrating with me, became annoyed at all the noise I was making.

Thus, alienation is not a new sentiment in my life, but I have managed. I’ve learned to create a sense of community for myself. Never, however, have I felt as isolated as I have during my time at Puget Sound. This alienation arises from the following:

The university lacks a support system for students of color. This is lacking both within the student body, but most importantly it is lacking within the faculty. It is hard to develop the same kinds of relationships that my classmates have with their professors when they don’t understand my experience or worse when I don’t feel like I can share my experience with them and/or when I do share with faculty and I am misunderstood altogether by those I hope will be supportive.  It is exhausting to have to explain why I didn’t go on study abroad or why I am not applying to international programs. Our professors can be excellent mentors and resources, but how can they mentor students whose experiences they don’t understand and don’t show interest in understanding? We need to acknowledge the fact that if we want a diverse student body then we need to be willing to provide students with an understanding faculty that can truly support and guide them.

When the subject of privilege and race are brought up in the classroom, it is obvious that people become uncomfortable. Rather than unpacking this discomfort, the discussion will end. When something that I find offensive is said in class, I find myself keeping silent. This silence is not due to my lack of outrage or wanting to speak up. Rather, my silence is a product of my exhaustion and fear. After attempts to talk about whiteness, race, racism as imbricated power structures, there comes the inevitable comment of “not all white people are like that” or worse yet, the eye-rolling. Rather than taking a moment and being introspective about how our privileges may benefit us, we get personally defensive and no intervention occurs.

I’ve spoken to some professors about how a term like “illegal alien” is dehumanizing. They have implied that I should be the one to speak out in class when the term is used. Furthermore, they have implied that it is my responsibility to call out any other microaggression. Why? To “not silence me or take away my agency.” What they fail to understand – beside the fact that the use of these terms are OUR problem and not just my own – is that on this campus, I’ve never felt safe speaking up. Speaking up results in feeling alienated. As a product of faculty not being willing to advocate on behalf of students during these moments, the burden then falls onto the student. And let me tell you, the burden is enormous.

There is resistance to conversations of race/ethnicity, privilege, and power. Often times, we do not engage with these topics due to the discomfort of the majority. In doing so, we are silencing the already isolated and alienated voices on campus. Yes, there are members of our campus community who are willing to engage, but it’s not enough. The proposed diversity curriculum is a small step in the right direction, but if we want to create an environment in which students of color feel supported, we need to bring diversity to the faculty.

I am leaving UPS angry and disappointed. As things stand now, I will not recommend this university to other undocumented students or students of color. What I have written here is only my own experience but certain aspects of my letter have resonated and continue to resonate with other students. Beyond that, I write this letter in an attempt to bring about change. UPS has enormous potential and I would love to see us all live up to it.

Thank you for your time,
Mariana Molina

For more on experiencing diversity as a minority at the University of Puget Sound you can read Sandra Rose Bryant’s piece in the Autumn 2012 issue of Arches here.

14 thoughts on “A Public Letter to the Faculty and Administration of the University of Puget Sound

  1. “Microaggression”? Boo-frikkin’-hoo. I’d love to have a look at your transcript, young lady, and listen to you whinge on about the rotten deal you’ve received in America. Your university instructors and fellow cohort are desperately liberal and have more compassion for you than for the average white-bread citizen.
    So go on, you, and quit whatever endeavor you start whenever you can get a single ear to believe that your failure is rooted in systemic racism. It’s you that insists on separating yourself and not the people of U. of Puget Sound. Of course, if you spew enough bile, you’ll find that you’re ostracized anywhere you go.

    1. In response to the father of U.P.S. student: I agree that the people on the Univ. of Puget Sound can be “desperately liberal” and compassionate– but you fail to reflect these qualities in your comment.

      The cumulative weight of micro-aggressions (no quotations needed because they are a real) can be huge. This might be difficult to comprehend if you mostly move through life as a member of the majority or if you have never known what is it like to be in a closet. (Not just the traditional “gay” closet but any situation that prompts a hard conversation: telling someone you are pregnant, telling someone you have cancer, telling someone you can’t really apply to that international fellowship or program– the range is tremendous)

      I am sad to see that your response reinforces the lack of compassion that led Mariana to write this open letter in the first place.

      I invite you to imagine the reality of not being a legal citizen in the country you have lived in for most of your life. Place yourself on the Puget Sound campus where I know studying abroad, international travel and fellowships are assumed as opportunities and very common topics of discussion. Undocumented-ness is not on people’s radar.

      Don’t blame her alienation on her personality or her transcript.. “I am sure that you would [not] want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.” (Dr. Martin Luther King – April 16 1963 – American Identities – Wiley-Blackwell – 2005)

      I recommend W.E.D. DuBois’ writings on double-consciousness in ‘Of Spiritual Strivings’ in The Souls of Black Folks.

      Parent, The subtext of your comment seems to be that you really love the Univ. of Puget Sound. And Mariana indictment of our beloved Faculty and Administration hurt you, too. I have had a drastically different experience with staff (but I am a white dude with citizenship..) and the university.

      Marianna, I am sorry to hear its been rough these last years and that you did not feel at home at Univ. of Puget Sound among students, admin and faculty. Especially, that thing about your friends not rejoicing with you in joy for executive order DACA. Not cool, housemates.

      I hope that the University of Puget Sound continues to increase its opportunities for enrollment to students of color in the future. But I agree, this MUST be matched with efforts to increase opportunities for inclusion and for campus to feel like home for everyone.

      Campus culture is changing like climate. With professors like Ostrom, Bristow, Kay, Gordon, Stockdale, Livingston, Simms and Proehl teaching– (to name a few), initiatives like Race and Pedagogy and board of trustee members like Lyle Quasim – I disagree. The University should not freeze the diversity on campus as is. But is hugely important to be honest about the different experiences on this white majority campus (majority documented and citizens). And to engage in work each day with ourselves and our communities to make it a better place.

      thanks for being real with us!

    2. Anonymous Father,

      What are you even talking about? Mariana didn’t say she got a rotten deal in America. She hasn’t quit anything – in fact she’s overcome quite a lot and is looking forward to graduating soon from one of the better Universities in this country. What failure of hers is she blaming on systemic racism? What bile has she spewed?

      It’s as if you’ve commented on a blog post written between the lines and visible only to you. And why are you so angry and defensive about her experience? On the plus side, you’ve given us a real example of her point that “there is resistance to conversations of race/ethnicity, privilege, and power. Often times, we do not engage with these topics due to the discomfort of the majority.”

      Aaron Ausland. ’95 alum

  2. She makes some good points but unless she speaks up during these class discussions and contributes nothing will happen or change. Things don’t change when you stay silent. I remember during my Connections course the teacher would say a generic comment about people in a situation (not really knowing anyone in that situation) to start a discussion and a student in class, offended by the teacher’s comments, spoke up and educated everyone on how things really were as someone who lived through it. I loved those classes. Bringing in the real world experiences of the UPS student body and changing how people view things. That’s what’s so great about discussions. I’m a little disappointed that Mariana didn’t speak up in class and instead sat in silence when those were the perfect opportunities to be heard.

    I can understand being frustrated and thinking you’re not being heard or others aren’t as excited for you on something but this just make me think she needs to expand her circle. There are so many people on campus who, I’m sure, would be happy to hear about her experiences but don’t know her or know that there were experiences to ask about. There are great professors on campus who have had many different experiences and who knows maybe she just hasn’t had a class with the right one? I don’t know what field her studies were in but while the professors might not be hugely “diverse” in color they are diverse in experiences, places they have been, and what they bring to the classroom.

    Personally I think it’s great that the school is looking to diversify the student body more. Maybe instead of more diversity higher up the student body diversity could bring in those that help support others like Mariana, support in numbers could be a good thing. I’m sorry this was her experience and I hope her last few months at UPS are good.

    1. Does this not count as speaking up?

      Also, please understand that Mariana’s experience is not isolated, and you being sorry does not help fix anything.

      It’s nice that you enjoyed hearing other classmates speak up. Try to understand the courage it takes to do so.

  3. Mariana,
    You are beautiful. You are strong, and you are courageous. You, here, telling your truth with humility, ferocity,and clarity is powerful. I am a 2009 grad, and I too sat in silence in many of my classes when the topic of race entered the discussion. I hear you. I see you. Know that you are not alone. Remember that you are building a powerful toolkit. When you leave UPS you will have gained great knowledge and understanding of how that particular bubble works. Take that knowledge and use it move the needle, create change.
    Peace and Blessings, Mariana. You are a gift to all of us.

  4. I don’t blame you for feeling jaded and disappointed – after all your experience sounds very unique and I’m not sure most people can really relate to it closely.

    However, from my experience at our University (grad of ’09), I was thankful for the amount of diversity in the student body as I learned a lot from my peers. The faculty support structure at the moment may not fully be there, but I would encourage the opposite – I’d love to see an even more diverse student body as it will only enhance the education experience of everyone on campus. It was the people that spoke up and had unique points of view on things I took for granted (or was unawarely privileged because) that I really learned from. It’s exhausting, yes, but the process of becoming a solid institution for a diverse student body is a slow one.

    The burden is a large one, yes, and the more support the better, but it sounds like you’ve already accepted your role in our bubble society of someone that is willing to fight to change it, so I’d encourage you to keep doing so despite the imperfect balance at UPS at the moment.

  5. Although I can sympathize with Mariana, the purpose of this letter is lost on me; the logic of her writing does not make sense. She first gives us her backstory about her status as an illegal immigrant and the burdens that accompany her position, but she then switches to a topic of racism. She tells us that “The university lacks a support system for students of color” and that the university should “not increase its enrollment of students of color anywhere in the new future”, but what does race have to do with the hardships she experienced as an illegal immigrant? Throughout her letter, there is no situation where problems arose as a result of racism. Instead, the source of her problems originate from her status as an undocumented resident. People tend to use the race-card too loosely and in this case, incorrectly. This letter, while well written is a gross misrepresentation of the status of colored people on campus. How can she accurately claim that we have a racist culture on our campus when her letter does not clearly define the boundaries between racism and prejudice towards illegal immigrants? As a person of color, I have not encountered any issues of racism or have witnessed any problems that arose as a result of it. If she were to provide clear concrete evidence that shows that racism is an issue that is prevalent on our campus, then her point will be valid. This is an issue of prejudice towards undocumented residents, not racism. I do agree that illegal immigrants have great difficulty living in the United States, however, that is a different subject than what was depicted in her letter.

    1. 1. You’re probably yt.
      2. We don’t use the word “colored” anymore.
      3. You fail to identify the inescapable relationship between race and immigration.

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