When I recently heard one of my colleagues at The Reflector was wanting to write a piece against the premise of minority student organizations, I knew it was my duty to deviate from the typical international politics columns I write to serve as a voice of opposition to such an idea.
In full disclosure, I serve as the president of Hillel, the Jewish Student Association; a member president on the International Student Advisory Board and a mentor in Linking Internationals in the Community. I have spoken about diversity and inclusion to minority student organizations such as the Muslim Student Association, LGBTQ+ Union, MSU Spectrum, Starkville Pride, the Moroccan Student Association and more.
I have also provided constitutional advice to the Black Fashion Society. I am a proud member of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center and was the 2019 student recipient of President Keenum’s Commission on the Status of Minorities’ Diversity Award. So, to say I am passionately involved with these types of organizations would be an understatement and may, admittedly, influence my belief that these organizations are paramount to our university’s identity, and our state and nation’s ideals.
Hillel and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) are two examples of minority student organizations that focus on religion and service the vast majority of the religious minorities they respectively represent to the university. Both organizations provide an outlet for two of the smallest religions represented in our state and at our university—two religions with followers which find themselves embroiled in conflict in other regions of the world, as reported by Lisa Lerer and Elizabeth Dias with The New York Times.
MSA’s membership is comprised of many Muslims from these regions, and Hillel partners with MSA to help them enhance their understanding of both Judaism and the Jewish people, highlighting the vast similarities between the two minority groups. Hillel and MSA host friendship dinners where members from each organization cook their traditional religious or cultural dishes to share over conversation and deepen their respect, understanding and admiration for one another. This is exemplified by the large presence of MSA members at Hillel’s vigil of remembrance for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018 and the large presence of Hillel members at MSA’s vigil for the Christchurch mosque shooting in 2019.
The Trevor Project reports LGB college students are three times as likely to engage in self-harm, including suicide, than their heterosexual peers. Minority student organizations like MSU Spectrum and LGBTQ+ Union, which have recently merged into F.L.A.R.E., aim to provide on-campus resources to help quell that statistic. F.L.A.R.E., an acronym for “Fostering LGBTQ+ Advocacy, Resources, and Environments,” is paramount to ensuring our non-heterosexual and transgender students have an atmosphere in which they can comfortably discuss and disclose to peers the troubles they face in a state with little to no protections for LGBTQ+ people.
The International Student Advisory Board (ISAB) seeks to combine opponents of minority student organizations’ goal of assimilation, while maintaining supporters of minority student organizations’ goal of celebrating diversity. This is made possible by helping international students adjust to the foreign climate of Mississippi State and providing an outlet where they can connect with peers in a similar position. ISAB is joined in this goal by Linking Internationals in the Community (LINC), which pairs international students with U.S. student mentors and host families in order to achieve more intimate results within the university community.
ISAB and LINC have successfully taught countless members how to appropriately and successfully achieve positive assimilation into our campus’ climate without sacrificing their individuality and native culture whilst also teaching their U.S. peers about their home culture and furthering their understanding and respect for said culture.
The main argument against minority student organizations is they inhibit assimilation, but I believe they encourage the opposite. How can one better assimilate into the cultural melting pot that is the United States than by getting to better know the many types of people and cultures it takes to make us the beacon of hope, cultural richness and equality we are today?
I do not believe homogeneity is a value, rather, I view it as contradictory to the purpose of the college experience—immersion and learning about the world outside of one’s hometown. Frankly, I find homogeneity terribly boring as well. I invite anyone who questions the purpose of minority student organizations to attend some of these organizations’ events to begin to understand just how important they are to enhancing our university’s vast cultural diversity. These organizations benefit both members, and anyone who attends their functions, as they will leave with newfound respect and understanding for the purposes these groups serve.