By: Jocelyn Boulware, CLASS OF 2017
Diversity at Furman is tricky to see when you look purely at the demographics of our student body. It has been interesting for sure, but also a joy to witness as a student.
Let me state a few things upfront: I am a sophomore, Philosophy major from a very small town in South Carolina.
As a black student, going to school at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) like Furman can be complicated. PWIs can be juxtaposed to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). When I arrived on campus, I was that typical freshman, always trying to find my place in the Furman community. With a student body that is less than 20 percent non-white, it was difficult for me to reconcile my blackness with the nuance in the Black community in light of being surrounding by so many people who differed from me racially.
My family taught me never to be color-blind, but to be color-conscious and to recognize that differences are what make us able to learn from each other. My parents also taught me to believe in and to recognize nuance and variation; not everyone who has a similar pigmentation has the same baggage or the same history. With this in mind, I launched into everything that I believe represents the best of Furman: late nights at Cookout, incredibly challenging classes, student organizations, and volunteer work, particularly with the Heller Service Corps and with the Office of Admission.
What I began to realize is that Furman is much more diverse than we sell ourselves to be, particularly because of how we as a culture and how Higher Education defines ‘diversity’. Let us pause on this word because it means so much more than we traditionally think it does. Diversity encompasses more than skin color; just because less than 20 percent of Furman’s population looks similar does not mean that it has an overwhelming air of blanketed sameness. Rather, it gives me a charge, even an obligation to push through the numbers and see people.
My goodness, these people are smart, incredibly talented, and intelligent, people who I am honored to glean from and blessed to do life with. With my attempt to find my place at this university, I had to take the initiative to do something that is so terrifying, yet so simple: talk to people. It is hard, but there is a humility that comes with genuinely listening people, realizing that differences are real and that attempting to understand scores of people by assuming undifferentiated wholes is dangerous.
The pure act of talking to and communicating with people showed me the true diversity on our campus. It is so key, not only to talk to, but to be present with people and not just the people who look like you, believe in the same deity, stand on the same side of the political aisle, are grouped in the same socioeconomic bracket or who hold the same ideologies. Particularly at a school like Furman, we students have to approach this act with intentionality.
I can attest to meeting some of the most compelling people while sitting at the Dining Hall eating the DH cookies taking random trips hosted by my freshman seminar. I began to see that my peers love to laugh just as much as I do, love good food possibly even more than I do, are overly involved I am, hurt just like I hurt, but are radically different from me. Of course, I learned all of these things through the good old-fashioned art of communication and it made me understand that I am not trying to “find a place” in the Furman community. I am a place in the Furman community. Even though, from the outside, we appear to be very homogenous, we are all unique pieces. We fit together to make our school the crazy, but beautiful puzzle that it is. We are all different, with complex nooks and crannies.
I encourage you to not be disgruntled or discouraged by the numbers that our school boasts. Literally, go and talk to people. It is awkward, but trust me, it is a joy.