Dear Graduate Student of Color,
As the application cycle draws near, our program is working on ways to make next year’s class more diverse and inclusive with students from marginalized backgrounds. While we are a large, fully-funded graduate program, out of the 18 students in the cohort, we’ve only managed to accept 1.5 African-Americans and two Asians, a Filipina, and a Filipino American — one of whom is from New Jersey, out of all the backwater states. What are the odds, right?
We were hoping to connect with you to share resources and work together, as Martin Luther King Jr. did, to bridge the gap between diversity in the classroom and our outdated, but unwavering, beliefs. Yes, I’m talking at you, graduate candidate of color.
We, the graduate application committee, want to know how we can make our program more inclusive without going through the process of hiring more faculty of color, accepting more students of color, or just making more attractive offers to both parties. If we did any of those things, it would cause an imbalance of white graduate students and faculty, and frankly, none of us want to be minorities.
For this inquiry, there will be no monetary compensation for your time and energy. Our department doesn’t have any funds. The university’s board of directors just spent $15 million on a new dining facility for our lucrative, championship football team, and each one of us just put a down payment on a new Prius. So don’t look at us. If you want to get your project funded, you’re better off begging strangers on GoFundMe like the scholarly wretch you’re destined to become.
A significant challenge to creating institutional change in a master’s program is the high turnover rate of students of color. We know that many of you share the goal of becoming a vibrant, supportive, inclusive community engaged in scholarly discussions and research that will benefit generations. Many of you are already involved in the hard work that creating such a community entails. We’d like to take over what you’re already working on, not pay you for it, and then publish it as our own success story. In return, those institutional changes you hoped for won’t come through, and if they do, you’ll probably have dropped out or graduated already. Whatever the circumstances, our combined efforts will look really good on paper.
Think of this as an invaluable experience. In your immediate future, a quarter of your time will be spent consoling us. It doesn’t matter if you go into academia, research, publishing, or join a law firm — your future rests on massaging the shoulders of white guilt. You will hold back your pride, your tears, and sometimes even your dignity so that we, the empowered, can unspool our baggage. We want to hear things like, “Congratulations!” “Good job!” and “You tried, white person!” You should practice your shoulder technique now.
For you MFA people, bear in mind that the magical black side-character has been replaced by the catch-all colored best friend; the brown therapist; and the infallible POC who happens to be a doctor/court judge/cybernetic super soldier that radiates colored excellence and is about as dull as a raw carrot. You’ll probably want to put an eye-patch on this character or make them a single parent in your first draft, something relatable.
If we’re being honest, all we ever want in life is to feel good that we showed face and did the bare minimum. We want to make you feel accepted at the expense of your time and energy. We are so gentle, so fragile, that we need to be coddled, to be told by at least one (1) person of color (preferably a black person OR whichever race is the current subject of popular buzz) that everything will be fine. If we had a dime for every time a graduate candidate of color told me, "I consider you my ally!” I’d be broke! But I’m trying, trying so very, very, hard.
These are still early days for us, but we’re happy to share with you the steps we’ve taken so far to make this community appear inclusive such as enforcing at least two (2) black authors on every syllabi (Toni Morrison and Ta-Nehisi Coates) no matter what the class is about, and now each faculty member’s email comes equipped with a randomly generated MLK quote next to their signature.
At this point, we’ll settle for even an Asian opinion. Bonus points if you’re Filipino. As Issa Rae said, you guys are the black people of Asia, right? That’s two marginalized opinions in one shot!
We want you to know that we care; you should be grateful for our efforts. Try not to forget that we control your funding, teaching schedule, and that almighty letter of recommendation. Say you want to apply for that residency, a fellowship, or abandon all hope with your coming of age in color novel and say, go to med school instead? What are you going to do? Reach out to that former boss you told off? Your brash actions sound about as silly now as they did then, so it would behoove you to play nice. Get along with us. Be respectable.
Mostly this message is to say hi and that we’re available to have a meeting with you and your “marginalized” friends — preferably the ones who look good on camera. It would be an excellent photo op for the university’s Facebook page (caption: “Look at all this diversity!”). During the meeting we’ll talk circles around the topic, put the jumbled nonsense into an email, and if there’s any pushback against those notes (which will be forgotten by the end of the semester) we’ll plan another meeting about that email with the notes from the meeting before it, and keep having meeting after meeting after meeting until you give up.
At the very least, we’ll always have that precious photo that shows we tried and that we care.
Please feel free to shoot us an email. The more we all connect with one another, the stronger our efforts will be to ensure that our program exhibits equality while remaining at arm’s length from one another.
Your graduate application committee
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Martin Luther King Jr.*
*Quote provided by the MLK argument bot. Are you conservative or a white supremacist and need to make a point involving African-American history? Look no further than MLK bot! Download our app today!