A critical aspect of college life is having the opportunity to explore your identity through programming that often gives students a safe space to learn more about themselves and their respective cultural history. However, the divide in Ramapo’s student body in regards to heritage month celebrations reflects the lack of allyship amongst marginalized communities. It is imperative that students begin to realize that in order to receive allyship from communities from which they are not a part of or do not identify with, they must first become allies to other communities as well.
Heritage month celebrations are a staple at Ramapo, and although African Ancestry Month was incredibly successful this year, it was primarily attended by black students and students of African diaspora. It is problematic that there is a routine at Ramapo where students who identify within a particular community are the only ones invested in the concerns of that community and celebrating that identity. This rings true every year during African Ancestry Month and is also true with Latino Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Islander Month, Native American/Indian American Heritage Month, Queer History Month and Women’s Herstory Month.
Becoming an active ally begins with supporting other student communities at Ramapo. Tanadjza Robinson McCray, coordinator for equity and diversity programs in the Women’s Center, currently oversees all the heritage month planning committees so she has witnessed how students only support programs that cater to their community. Students essentially plan for themselves.
When asked how students can be better allies for others, she said, “ … be open and available to expanding your horizons and not just attending events that are specific to your identity … That’s the only way you’re going to be able to connect with other people. The first step is to go out and support them and even collaborating … I think that’s how students learn the most: by collaborating.”
Collaboration among communities has always had extraordinary effects. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s is often depicted as a movement exclusively ran by African American activists. However, there were members of the Civil Rights Movement who also advocated for women’s rights and LGBT rights simultaneously. White participation in the Civil Rights Movement was also essential.
When asked why it is important for students to support others, Megan Chan, a student on the Asian Pacific Islander heritage month planning committee, said, “So you can be educated. We don’t know what other people go through, so you might as well learn from other people directly.”
Presently, there is also a student on the Asian Pacific Islander heritage month planning committee who does not identify as Asian or a Pacific Islander. Sitting on the committee will certainly offer that student a chance to learn more about a culture that is not his or hers, while at the same time giving students on the committee a different perspective.
Ramapo students should realize that the campus is just a microcosm of the larger American society and so being an ally for marginalized groups on campus will make it easier to connect with and support those groups after your college career. Playing the "oppression Olympics" – when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than the other – is detrimental to the fight for social justice. It is a misuse of worthy work, and time would be much better spent supporting one another.