A couple of years ago, I almost had the opportunity to serve as a mentor at Towson University. The purpose of the program was to more or less pair students with mentors who would show the freshmen how to navigate the wilds of college. AWESOME. However, I was turned away after the interview process because “A few of the mentors felt that you would not be able to relate to incoming black freshmen.”
Now for some back story… I was actually a part of the same program during my freshmen year. My mentor happened to be Latino, which was perfectly fine with me. You are supposed to interact with and appreciate new people, cultures, ideas, and experiences during college, right? He took me to different events on campus, and introduced me to the Latin American Student Organization. I fell in love with LASO! The atmosphere was warm and vibrant, and I felt like the people there were sincerely interested in learning who I was. I ended up joining the group, serving as group secretary, planning meetings, and making a ton of friends. It was during this time that the director of the mentoring program approached me multiple times about possibly becoming a mentor. COOL! I wanted to show new freshmen how to get involved and make college the best experience of their lives! Then I heard the dreaded question “Are you Latino?” Of course I was honest in my reply. I am BLACK and I am PROUD of my heritage. The director would go on to back track, which gave me the impression that I was only considered for the position because he thought I was Latino. After the conversation I tried to make sense of the politics behind what was just said, but I had a quiz coming up in a couple of hours so I decided to focus on that.
FAST FORWARD 1 YEAR
I am once again approached by the director to take part in the program. I made the choice to go ahead with the interview process because I really wanted to help make a difference on our campus by giving back to a program that helped me as a freshmen. There was a large group interview where prospective mentors were mixed with current ones. We talked about the different responsibilities of the mentors and also about diversity issues on campus. I believe that I performed well during the process. A week passes by and I am contacted by the director. After the meeting, I was genuinely hurt by what was said. I was not upset about the decision itself, but at the absurd reasoning behind the decision. I’m no stranger to being called “oreo” or “whiteboy.” I grew up in the suburbs and most of my friends were either white or Filipino. That being said, being blackballed for not being black enough was an entirely new experience. Ridicule from youth on the playground is one thing, but that same criticism (albeit in a more sophisticated fashion) hurts ten times worse when it bars you from something you are passionate about.
My question is simple. Why would the director of a student affairs program designed to “foster academic achievement, personal development, and campus wide involvement among entering students from diverse backgrounds,” keep an involved, connected, former mentee with a 3.2 gpa from the position? The answer: TO BE DETERMINED
If you ever happen to come across a similar situation, don’t fret. Odds are you are better off finding another way to do what you love while still being yourself. I turned to other student groups, the Student Government Association, and eventually Greek life to find my niche. In closing, don’t let other people’s opinions, theories, or criticisms (no matter how RIDICULOUS they may seem) stop you from giving back!