Last semester, as I looked around my dinner table at O’Donovan Hall, I found myself with a group of women who resembled me completely. For the first time, it dawned on me that there was a greater reason that led me, a black woman, to instinctively befriend other black women.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to my group of friends: A lot of lunch tables at Georgetown are homogeneous. That’s not necessarily a problem; however, if we truly want to achieve the benefits of diversity in our community, we must ensure diversify in our own individual lives.
Arriving on campus, I had anticipated a brochure-like college experience featuring friends from diverse backgrounds. However, that evening at Leo’s, as I juxtaposed the cafeteria tables near me with my own, my idealized vision collapsed. I was left with a startling reality: Would I graduate having never experienced the collegiate promise of diverse, intercultural friendships?
In her book, “Why Are the Black Kids Sitting Together in The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race,” Dr. Beverly Tatum theorizes that we often self-segregate ourselves because of our reluctance to speak on racial issues. To an extent, this claim may play a role in the homogeneity of my own friendships: We befriend others who are of a similar race, gender or sexual orientation because we are afraid to leave our own backyards.
Often, these groups serve as a defense mechanism aimed at diffusing social tension — because we fear judgement, we stay within our comfort zone. While this may be one cause of the racial dynamic at my dinner table, another likely explanation stems from a different sociological phenomenon — the subconscious selection that influenced my friendships as I formed them.
My closest friends and I, all first-generation American citizens from West Africa who live in the South Bronx, attended public high schools in Manhattan and come from non-traditional households with similar socioeconomic backgrounds. In other words, we inhabit very similar social locations, a sociological term used to group individuals based on their positions in history and society.
People often develop friendships due to mutual experiences, which are byproducts of shared social locations influenced by gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, geographic location and more. This concept is unsurprising, as most friendships begin with a simple conversation, often based on a common understanding of the world.
Regardless, part of the mantle of reaching out to friends rests on me; even though I had envisioned my friend group to be a textbook definition of diversity, I had not taken the appropriate measures to achieve it. As a second semester freshman, I realize that my group of friends had been established by the second week of freshman year.
Like many others, as our friendships began to crystallize, I stopped actively trying to meet new people. I latched onto the same type of people because I feared vulnerability, and this shortcoming is responsible for creating the homogeneity of our university experience.
In a time when students are supposed to be broadening their cultural diversity, sitting with the same people every afternoon offers little new knowledge of the world. Students at Georgetown are from diverse backgrounds — different states, countries, religions and ethnicities. Our student body consists of an array of unique experiences and interests. If we remain static within our group dynamic, we ignore the different dialogues and knowledge that can be gleaned.
Simply being surrounded by all these backgrounds is not enough. As the saying goes, “Diversity is being invited to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance.” By insulating ourselves within our personal friend groups, we are missing out on the richness and fulfillment exemplified by an inclusive campus atmosphere.
Isatou Bah and Anu Osibajo are freshmen in the College. FIRESIDE CHATS appears every other Tuesday.
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