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Men of Color

BY OSCAR GIL

My transition into the academic and social climate at Vassar was a turbulent episode of searching for people who understand and relate to my experience in attending a predominantly white institution. Fortunately, I was able to establish a close relationship with upper-class students from the community of color who actively sought to address experiences of marginalization at Vassar. As a Latino man of color, I was proud to hear about the efforts and accomplishments in addressing our needs --- on and off-campus.

In the last few years, however, the community of color, and in a greater sense, men of color, has suffered from a decline in participation by men of color in leadership positions. The declining role of men of color in student organizations has negatively affected social change at Vassar. This trend in participation was not always the case.

The graduating Class of '92 marks one significant recent period for leadership among men of color at Vassar. Both the President of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) and the Senior Class President of '92 were headed by African-American men. This level of leadership by men of color, along with others, was instrumental in providing students of color access to resources available in the higher tiers of student government. Unfortunately, this level of participation has not been repeated within the last six years.

I had the opportunity to meet one of these former leaders recently. During the fall semester, Tyrone Forman '92 was invited to campus by the Intercultural Center. Forman's talk, "Keepin' it Real: Racial Matters on Predominantly White Campuses," focused on how to find effective ways to mobilize students of color to address problems they face within a predominantly white institution. Forman's college career at Vassar was quite active; he mentioned how he spent a lot time writing letters to the President and others on issues that he felt were problematic to the community of color.

Now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, Forman recounted one of the many incidents that provoked him to write letters. He cited being "carded" by Security as he entered Strong dorm. Forman says that he didn't have a problem with Security asking people for their student identification; he understood that students might be at risk if everyone was allowed to freely enter residence halls. However, according to Forman, what disturbed him was the focus on his identification while several white men entered the building unquestioned and unchallenged.

The positive energy and enthusiasm present in Forman's lecture was indicative of the kind of involvement that must be reclaimed by men of color if the Vassar community is to be impacted. Above all, Forman's talk reminded me of how critical it is for men of color, despite our small numbers, to take on leadership roles and begin to define issues with other campus constituencies.

My concern over the decline in leadership among men of color within and outside the community of color should not be equated with the idea of creating patriarchal models of leadership, where women of color would be subjected to issues only concerning men of color. Instead, it is a call to all men of color to join forces with our sisters of color who have continued to take on leadership roles within our organizations.