Speaker Discusses Problems with PWIs


“If the only story of Dickinson is whiteness, if the only story of Dickinson is maleness, if the only story of Dickinson is straightness, if the only story of Dickinson is Christendom, then we are depriving Dickinson from being its best self,” claimed Dr. Marc Lamont Hill at his lecture, entitled “Race Relations at Predominately White Institutions.” Here he discussed a range of issues students of color face which are neglected at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and how that neglect and isolation prevents an institution from being more diverse.

Hill was hosted by Kappa Alpha Psi with the help of the Africana studies department, American studies, Greek Life (IFC) and the Dickinson Christian Fellowship. Kevin Ssonko ’20, “spear headed” Hill’s coming to campus. He said that “given the current campus climate regarding social issues, especially regarding race, I figured Dr. Hill being a leading scholar on these issues would introduce a unique and different narrative to the campus conversation that would be a benefit to both students and faculty.”

According to his website, marclamonthill.com, Hill is “currently the host of BET News and a political contributor for CNN” as well as an esteemed journalist. Hill also teaches at Temple University as the Steve Charles Professor of Media, Cities and Solutions. In addition to his time as a news correspondent and professor, Hill works closely with the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Reform Project, serves as a founding board member of a non-profit organization called My5th and has campaigned to end the death penalty and release political prisoners from jail. Hill’s lecture centered around the issue of race relations at a college with a primarily white student body and possible efforts to combat the tension present on campus.

Hill began by addressing the stigma around accepting students of color into universities that, historically, have been mostly white, stating that those acceptances are often viewed as “a hookup for people who don’t have access to get in [to university].” Rather than viewing people of color as charity cases, he states, they should be viewed as an “institutional asset,” transforming our institution into a “more rich and dynamic tapestry.” Hill also highlighted the importance of finding a school whose history shows “if the institution cares about you.”

He continued by detailing ways in which students can bring change to their respective institution and make it their home. The key, Hill claims, is to join organizations and use those organizations as a vessel for change. Hill addressed the entire audience stating, “everybody in this room has a responsibility to make Dickinson more diverse.”

Men’s lacrosse coach, Dave Webster, attended the event after watching Hill on TV before. “I was very interested to see him in person,” Webster said. Even though the event was not mandatory for lacrosse, Webster did encourage his athletes to attend and shared the event information with the entire team. “I encourage our young men to participate with various events on campus and was pleased that many were able to attend on Thursday,” he said.

Anchal Kannambadi ’19 felt that Hill addressed more than just her own qualms with Dickinson. “Students of color on this campus open their spaces up to discuss current events as well as create a space where everyone is welcomed, yet there are not many students who are white who take those opportunities to break out and do something different…Dr. Hill’s talk really did address those issues, and he even expanded to a broader idea of community and feeling loved, even by an institution,” she said.

Robin Okunowo ’21 felt that Hill discussed a topic often overlook by many students: the idea that students of color are provided this opportunity almost as a charitable decision than based on merit. “Dr. Hill addressed … the fact that there is a stigma that people believe that people of color are lucky to be accepted into these institutions, but in reality, it’s the opposite. PWIs are places where conversations about meritocracy and affirmative action always come up, and people honestly believe that PoC [people of color] at schools are only let in because they check a box. That blows my mind,” she said.

Pelumi Onabajo ’19, president of Kappa Alpha Psi, said that “more work needs to be done to make Dickinson really feel like home for students from all backgrounds/experiences.” Onabajo also said, “the college has certainly addressed specific issues, I believe there are other themes/issues that have to be addressed and given priority as well.”