Stop racial tokenization at Westmont

Ebun Kalejaiye

On Feb. 4, Westmont sent out an email with the President’s Briefing, in which accomplishments over the past decade were proudly proclaimed and new improvements, majors, and athletic achievements were highlighted. One title read, “The new data analytics major offers additional opportunities for students.” This headline alone with a short description shows the fantastic progress Westmont is making in expanding academics. The problem is the photo of Tanzanian American Westmont junior, Chisondi Warioba, underneath the data analytics headline. 

Chisondi Warioba is a chemistry and physics double major on the pre-medicine track. “I was really confused that they would put my picture under a heading that I do not fit but then I took a step back and realized that I really shouldn’t be so shook because I’m in a place where I have never fit,” Warioba explains. He puts into words the feelings of many people of color on campus when he says, “I really feel like an object and a statistic rather than someone that the Westmont community truly values to have in their midst.”

This mindset makes students question their place here at Westmont and the positions they hold. “I really felt it when Edee Schulze said the statistics about students of color in Res Life at Westmont,” comments RA Laina Quiñones who is Mexican and white/European American. “There’s a fine line between tokenization and representation. I didn’t know whether I was hired just because I’m mixed or Latina,” she says in reference to her questioning other potential motives behind being hired. The doubt fostering in the minds of students about the positions they believe they earned, creates an environment in which students of color question all of their achievements. 

When discussing students of color, Westmont struggles to stay on the correct side of the aforementioned fine line. Quiñones further explains, “They just don’t understand how they’re tokenizing when they say ‘my black friend’ or ‘my Latino friend’ but don’t do any soul searching to see how they’re whiteness is affecting [people of color].”

This lack of understanding felt by students makes it difficult for them to feel like they belong, especially at a school where they are the glaringly obvious minority. Feeling like a number rather than a human is damaging to a student’s self-image.

When discussing the roots of tokenization on campus, Brendan Fong, co-leader of the Multi-Ethnic Student Association, says, “The logic of tokenization stems from a profound faith in individualism and a restricted view of reconciliation … without significant institutional reform to create a proactive culture of accountability around race, Westmont can’t help but reinforce its own tokenizing logic and reinscribe that same logic on us, the students.” Fong explains that the frustration felt by students is a result of Westmont’s failure to recognize racism as an institutional issue that affects all areas of student life on campus. Eventually, the climate of the school becomes “hostile to and toxic for students of color,” according to Fong.

That kind of learning environment is disruptive for both white students and students of color at Westmont, but especially for students of color. The negative nature of tokenization has repercussions that are affecting the mental health of students of color. “When you are tokenized, it forces you to represent millions of people. The majority audience will then take whatever you say and add it to their stereotype of whatever race you are,” say Asian Student Association co-leaders Tiana Krukar and Catherine Meng about the nature of tokenization. They continue with the mental effects of being tokenized, saying, “You’re going to try to be real and honest about the situation you’ve been put in but at the same time there is a greater pressure to cater to the white audience [and] the mental pressure of dealing with the two factors is exhausting.”

Students of color are made aware very early on of how Westmont tries to represent its “diverse” population because the faces you see in the classroom don’t match the diverse ones advertised on school promotion magazines. When you’re “almost expectant of being tokenized” as Warioba says, it is difficult to feel like Westmont cares about you as a person and not just a poster student for diversity in different aspects of the school. Chisondi Warioba puts it perfectly when he vocalizes his anger in saying, “They need my face and that’s purely it.”

Courtesy of Westmont College