The first step in solving any problem is admitting that there is one. On 1 March 2014 the online photo campaign I, Too, Am Harvard launched in support of an upcoming play that highlights the experience of black students at Harvard University. The campaign looked to address the lack of ethnic diversity on Harvard’s campus, students feelings of alienation about being considered a single ‘ethnic’ voice and their anxiety about addressing those feelings in the classroom.

The campaign has furthered discussions over affirmative action in college admissions, declining African-American enrollment in universities, and lack of diversity on university campuses. All of these are issues that we need to discuss and all of them generate contrast- ing opinions. But if nothing else, I, Too, Am Harvard addresses the unspoken assumptions in our society about race.

Multiple posts address the experience of Harvard students being talked down to, having ‘old friends’ who synonymously equate race and socioeconomic status or who use pejorative stereotypes.

Too often, we assume universality in the voices of ethnic groups. For instance, one post reads: “The lack of diversity in this classroom does not make me the voice of all black people.” The obvious problem with that situation is not only the assumption that the student’s skin colour means they identify with the black community, but also the assumption that there is a singular voice for the black community.

The influence of I, Too, Am Harvard has been seen across campuses in the US, as well as at Oxbridge, and now here at St Andrews. The Tumblr page for I, Too, Am St Andrews claims that: “This campaign is not an ethnic minority campaign; it’s a campaign for all of us who are against discrimination and false stereotypes”. Okay.

Their Tumblr page also claims that this University has an image problem: some people believe that we all just bop around town wearing Barbour and texting from our iPhone; that we blow ungodly amounts of money keeping up with the social life and struggle with such existential questions as ‘where will I drink tonight?’; and that the University is full of wealthy, upper-class students who don’t appreciate, or even accept, diversity. According to their Facebook page, the goal of I, Too, Am St Andrews is to show that the “true side of St Andrews” – whatever that means – is an accepting community.

While I will remain hopeful for them, I don’t think that this is the answer. St Andrews does have a problem with conformity, lack of diversity, and stereotypes. The simple fact that an online campaign has to be started to show that some diversity exists in St Andrews is proof of that. Don’t get me wrong, I am not discouraging them; I think that I, Too, Am St Andrews are beneficial contributions in the discussions of diversity at this University.

But weaseling out any kind of diversity is not the appropriate response to actual issues of stereotypes and conformity. Is it going to help students who feel defined by their peers solely by their race, sexual orientation or gender? Will it end the stigma of being from certain parts of Glasgow or northern England? Will it ease the humiliation of people ashamed to be associated with the ‘lad culture’ perpetuated by the student body? Will demonstrating diversity end unfair stereotypes or ease the pressure to conform?

No. Showcasing what little diversity there is in St Andrews may look good on the Student Prospectus, but it does little beyond acknowledging St Andrews has people from relatively diverse backgrounds. I, Too, Am St Andrews was well-intentioned, but will not effect change, especially not in a town where being considered American as a Canadian is considered a significant racial slight.

4 COMMENTS

  1. You have clearly missed the point if you think the “I, Too, Am…” campaign is about pointing out the lack of racial diversity in St Andrews. It is about people of color whose experiences and voices have been minimized or dismissed.

    The “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign is an incredibly successful project that has given people of color a platform to address everyday racism. From tone deaf questions (“Where are you really from?”) to tone deaf compliments (“Your English is so good!”), these points must be made.

    If you think St Andrews isn’t racially diverse, you aren’t paying attention. Even so, doesn’t that make this campaign all the more important?

    If you think the difference between an American or Canadian is “racial”, you are ignorant.

  2. I think that the ‘racial’ comment was meant to be facetious – of course it’s not a racial slight, is the point. ‘I, Too, Am Harvard/Oxford/Cambridge’ pointed out the hardships of campuses where there is true diversity, meaning interaction between different groups and people from different backgrounds. In St Andrews, cliques often run according to racial/ethnic lines, such that minorities are marginalized – there is not enough assimilation, nor is there any push for there to be. St Andrews’ image, how it is viewed, how people view themselves within it, is centered around being white and wealthy.

    People here are not discriminated against for being, ahem, ‘blonde’ – as one girl stated – or ‘Canadian’, and it’s ludicrous to put these beside serious statements of discrimination…

    In the politically apathetic and largely homogeneous culture of St Andrews, the ‘I, Too’ thing seems like a farce – really? A bunch of signs, and the whole social hierarchy of this boarding-school-esque institution will collapse?

    The movement works in formal institutions – not here.

  3. But I too am St Andrews is missing the point: saying that there is “the true side of St Andrews” implies that some people belong here more than others, which is exactly the type of thinking that I too am A Harvard is trying to defeat. You can not stop discrimination by saying diversity is the real St Andrews.

  4. The expression “The true side of St Andrews” is one that just means we are all St Andrews and that the perception of St Andrews is one of a white and middle class nature (FS being an example of nationwide St Andrews coverage where the pictures were of champagne and posh, white people. Not everybody there was posh, white or drinking champagne but the perception of St Andrews was maintained in the Daily Mail by the pictures used)

    I’m not dismissing the people who pertain to that group, in fact, some people who are in that group got involved in the photoshoot.

    I feel that a degree of under-representation existed in those who are black, those who are working class, those who do not have English as their first language and they need to be represented by this campaign.

    As I said in the Features post, please email me at sg95 if you think there’s an area where we can improve 🙂

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