IDEAS Center and Epps create space for change

As my first semester as a senior at Allegheny came to a conclusion, I discovered one of the college’s gems on campus. I found a place in the heart of the campus that every student in the Allegheny College community can feel welcomed and comfortable during their time at Allegheny. I walked into the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center located on the third floor of the Henderson Campus Center for the first time in four years and knew right away that everyone on campus should know about it.

According to the Allegheny College website, the mission of the IDEAS Center is to, “provide advocacy and support for historically underrepresented populations including, African American, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Hispanic & Latino, Native American and Indigenous Peoples, as well as Multiracial, low-income, first-generation, women, Muslim, Jewish, International, and LGBTQ communities. The staff works to facilitate awareness and community building, dialogue, collaboration and exploration of social current social justice issues for all members of the Allegheny College community.”

My colleague Juwan Cambell, ’17, told me to stop by a Brother to Brother Barbershop session he was a part of in the IDEAS center one night because I was looking to get a haircut from him.

When I walked in, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was greeted by Darnell Epps, the associate director of the IDEAS Center. He is one of the most genuine, personable, intelligent and interesting individuals that I have had the privilege of meeting since coming to Allegheny. Right when I shook his hand and saw the welcoming smile on his face I knew that this was a person who I would love to stay in contact with in the future.

But when more and more students started to walk through the door, I started to feel less welcomed when I realized that nobody else looked like me. I was the only white male in the room.

Although I was a little hesitant on staying, I decided to, and that may have been the greatest decision I have made as a student here.

The Brother to Brother Barbershops were a gathering of only the male students on campus who came to participate in a discussion facilitated by Epps and Steve Prince, assistant professor of art and artist-in-residence. The goal was to speak on topics surrounding issues with race in an old time barbershop setting. Most students were in the IDEAS Center to get their haircut during the discussion, but others came just to communicate as a group. Everyone had the opportunity to speak their mind and bring their own ideas and perspectives to the discussion. Needless to say, the discussion went very smoothly with a variety of opinions flowing around the room, except for mine.

I knew that I was welcome in the atmosphere among a student body of solely African American and Latino males, but for some reason I still felt uncomfortable being the only white male in the room. Despite my lack of contribution to the discussion, I still took away one major concept from the conversation: change needs to be made.

Racism is still an issue in today’s society, and there is still racism at Allegheny College. To hear multiple African American and Latino students say that they still felt uncomfortable being around white people or just at this campus in general is heartbreaking. Although slavery and segregation are over, these populations of people still feel oppressed and like they are treated differently than others.

In fact, one student said that he felt like he only fit in with other African American students and that he did not have many friends on campus because he was afraid of talking to anyone who wasn’t the same race as him. That is wrong on so many levels. Allegheny goes by the slogan “unusual combinations,” and it should not be unusual to have a diverse group of students who attend our college.

There has to be a point in time at which more individuals on this campus understand the issues within our community and work toward eliminating them to make the atmosphere healthier.

It is not just the black lives that matter, or the Latino lives that matter, but all lives matter.

We need to work toward creating a community at Allegheny College that anyone and everyone feels comfortable in. I never realized what other groups on this campus truly felt about each other until I walked through the doors of the IDEAS Center, but I do know that it changed my perspective on life. Every person has something unique about them, but in addition to that, they also have something that relates to every other human.

It is not too late to begin changing the atmosphere around us. But why wait? Because now is the time to move forward with these changes in order to make Allegheny a better place, but more importantly a place for everyone.

If you are a student on this campus, I encourage you to stop into the IDEAS Center and head straight to the office of Darnell Epps to sign up for the Brother to Brother program. If you are not a male student, I still encourage you to stop into his office to just discuss life and whatever crosses your mind, because he will undoubtedly have an effect on you.