By Juliane Glahn, Contributor
Students and faculty from different walks of life came together to speak about, listen to and discuss their identities and experiences with diversity at Furman at a student panel called “We Are Furman” Tuesday Nov. 1. The panel was hosted by the university’s Student Diversity Council.
Eleven Furman student panelists recounted their personal stories regarding how their backgrounds distinguished them from the “default” Furman student. Speakers discussed issues concerning religion, class, racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as gender identity.
Despite the fact that the featured students came from different backgrounds, all seemed to share one common experience: The occasional feeling of exclusion at Furman due to its lack of diversity. Not quite fitting the status quo can lead to students feeling isolated in a place that is supposed to be their home away from home, according to panelists.
Many of the students discussed how often they have been judged based on looks and nationality. Stereotypes influenced the way in which they were perceived; often, values and characteristics were ascribed to them that they do not actually identify with, panelists said. Consequently, many felt that they were denied the chance to be known for who they truly are.
Several speakers at the panel addressed the issue of having judgement passed based on their skin color, and how it is seen as an indicator for their origin, native tongue and character traits — when in fact, they revealed through discussion, that looks may be deceiving.
Andy Teye, a sophomore, noted people often make wrong assumptions based on his ethnicity and the way he speaks. He shared that when peers learn his home country is Ghana, assumptions and preconceptions are made, before ever hearing the rest of his story. Another student had similar experiences, and pointed out that many peers jumped to conclusions too quickly without getting to know her.
However, as other students on the panel expressed, the issue of diversity at Furman is not solely tied to ethnicity or nationality.
The problems that sometimes arise when having a different gender identity than the binary male and female, considered to be the norm, were brought up by Dove Tennenbaum. Tennenbaum talked about the constant need to come out and explain their gender identity at length because of people’s unfamiliarity with and occasional ignorance of the topic.
Another student pointed out that, while someone might appear to fit the typical student profile on the outside, this may not be the case. Kristen Murdagh discussed the obstacles she faced due to coming from a different financial class than most of her peers, as well as holding different religious beliefs that might conflict with those of the majority.
Each student had a different experience when adjusting to life on Furman’s campus and had to overcome various obstacles. Although most seemed to agree that they may never fit in entirely, the student panelists stressed that being diverse also makes them unique.