Out of the box and into the world

Heba Dafashy

Any person who has visited campus for one day can testify to the racial diversity that is present at our University. UT prides itself on this demographic diversity as the campus transforms into a door to the rest of the world.

Although our campus exhibits a strong level of diversity, how much do students take advantage and benefit from this diversity? When I first set out to explore this topic, I had an idea that students rarely stepped out of their racial and cultural comfort zones to really benefit from our diverse University. I thought cultural courses at the University were typically taken by students of that same cultural background. However, research revealed that my assumptions were wrong.

UT students step out of their cultural comforts and take courses outside of their racial heritages all the time.

Toyin Falola, professor of history and African and African diaspora studies, claims that typically only 5 percent of his African history courses are taken by African-American students. Meanwhile, Alexander Weinreb, a sociology professor who teaches a course on anti-Semitism, predicts that only a small percentage of his class are students of a Jewish heritage.

In addition, Ben Suma, an East Asian studies, urban studies and corporate communications senior, agreed that his Asian studies classes are the most demographically diverse classes on his entire schedule. It seems that students really do explore the cultural diversity that our University offers. But why did I initially hold this false assumption?

Although it seems that students take advantage of the wide range of ethnically diverse courses at the University, there also seems to be a culture of self segregating within one’s same race, ethnicity or political ideology.

For instance, last Thursday’s Daily Texan featured an article that discussed the role of Greek organizations in minority groups. The article noted how beneficial Greek life could be for minorities as it unifies a specific racial and cultural group. However, it’s these kinds of groups that can actually restrict the interactions of various racially diverse students.

One reason that students may choose to join a sorority, fraternity or organization is that the group of students may have similar interests, religions, ideology or ethnicity as them. While we love being with people who are similar to us, it is important to branch out and interact with students who are different than we are. This kind of diversity within student interactions is where the real benefits are to attending a demographically diverse University.

There are so many benefits to stepping outside of our comfort zones and interacting with students who may believe, live or think differently than we do. If we only surrounded ourselves with people who believe the things we believe, then our viewpoints would never change. Interacting with others of a different background challenges and enhances a person’s ideas and perspectives. This not only allows students to widen an understanding about a particular belief but also to think critically about such ideas.

Although classrooms are supposed to foster this kind of dialogue, oftentimes they cannot engage all students into the conversation because of the size of the class. Therefore, it is important for students to participate in conversations that challenge their beliefs outside of a classroom setting.

Even though my assumption on diversity within classrooms was wrong, I still believe that UT has a culture to self-segregate. We need to make a conscious effort to step outside our cultural, religious or racial boxes and interact with our diverse student body. Doing so would prepare us for the diverse world that lies ahead.

Dafashy is a Plan II senior.