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Students surprised identity politics result in feeling the need to ‘represent their race’

Students at the University of Illinois recently were queried about how their race affects classroom participation, and some expressed consternation at the pressure “to be a good representative of [their] race and religion.”

For example, Bangladeshi-American Marihah Muhsinah told The Daily Illini that, aside from that “pressure,” she “keeps to herself during class discussions, feeling occasionally unwelcomed by her white classmates.”

“I feel like I have to be more toned-downed, and I can’t express myself as much because I don’t want people to get the wrong impression of Muslims or hijabi girls in general,” Muhsinah said. “I think I definitely keep myself a little more reserved because I don’t want to come off as a know-it-all brown girl, so in discussion classes, I won’t say much and I’ll just let the other people talk.”

The Illini notes that although research on this topic is inconclusive, “some evidence suggests that white students participate at a higher rate than minorities.”

Muhsinah agrees with that assessment.

“I’ve definitely noticed that white students are a lot more vocal when it comes to advocating for their opinions or talking about what they think they should do to solve a problem,” she said.

The linked research says, however, that “the participation of white and non-white students most often was very similar. However, there were occasions when non-white students became the class ‘experts’ on a given topic, such as police profiling.”

From the article:

Other students felt that their race and appearance played a more significant role in their academic experience, especially when they are one of the few minority students in the room.

“There are classes where nobody participates, and it’s so scary to raise your hand in classes like that because you don’t know what anybody else is thinking,” Surya Nair, a sophomore in LAS, said. “But when somebody who shares a small amount of your experience is participating in class, then it just becomes so much easier.”

Stephanie Hernandez, a freshman in DGS, said she feels uncomfortable speaking in classes where she’s the only Hispanic student, often feeling like other students are already in a clique closed off to outsiders.

Muhsinah said that her white classmates don’t feel as comfortable sitting next to or having discussions with her as they do with other white classmates.

Not comfortable? Now why might that be?

In addition, perhaps Muhsinah, Nair, and Hernandez could pause to consider just why the situation is as they perceive it — that identity politics permeate the very foundation of the modern academy.

The “diversity” buzzword is used by campus officials to promote the notion that racial, ethnic, and religious minorities bring different perspectives to the academy, and the various racial, ethnic, and religious student unions/organizations play right into this concept. And then … students like Muhsinah are surprised that they are called upon to do just that?

What does the Politically Correct Hierarchy Handbook say about all this? Without one, this Daily Illini report is yet another example of the inherent contradictions which identity politics never fail to manifest.

MORE: Conservative branded ‘fake Mexican’ stays strong, rejects ‘fatal concept of identity politics’

MORE: Editor who first ran Mohammed cartoons says identity politics is eroding free speech

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.