UT values diverse pictures over diverse voices

Jessica Bathea

The University of Texas’ commitment to diversity is superficial at best. President Gregory Fenves reports success at UT’s diversity initiatives, citing the “double-digit increases in Hispanic and African-American first-time college freshman admits.” Indeed, lumping “Hispanic and African-American” students together concocts an impressive 25 percent figure for all freshman admissions, but, in reality, only 5.3 percent of all freshman admits are Black, and the total Black population hovers at 3.9 percent. The University’s attempt to skew that statistic indicates that Black representation is a mere afterthought in its campaign for diversity.

Yet nearly every public image of the University features a black person. The University wants to take pictures of our faces and advertise itself as “diverse,” but it doesn’t want to hear our voices. When several Black students attempted to confront President Fenves about this issue at a recent Texan Talks event, the equivocacy and dismissal they received in return, followed by the “unrelated” appearance of UTPD, sent a clear message to all Black students: “Yes, you can be here. As a walking exhibit for the other students’ fascination, we need you here. But please, stop talking. You don’t know what you’re talking about because if you did, you’d agree with us.”

Why the disrespect? Does UT really want us here? As a Black female student on campus, I am constantly bombarded with suppositions that affirmative action — and not my academic merit and work ethic — got me here. Trust me, that’s a lie.  Success at this institution is all about making connections, and this prejudice against me and other Black students severely undermines that. While other students share notes with each other, attend office hours in complete comfort and pass down previous tests — let me not. We Black students are left isolated in an uphill climb. When we don’t showcase the “ability” to assimilate and appear enthusiastic about the Euro-centric curriculum, we cannot connect with our (overwhelmingly white) professors or our peers for they do not place value on understanding our experience. How does that foster diversity?

The administration has not done enough to make UT a less hostile environment for Black students. The Jefferson Davis statue was moved to a museum. I repeat: a museum. Meanwhile, the statues of Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston (Lee’s predecessor) stand firmly in the South Mall. Black students — and only Black students — have to cope with the fact that the University honors individuals who fought to keep them slaves. So does UT really have a commitment to diversity? Or just a committee?

If UT wants to truly cultivate diversity, it must take more initiatives to increase Black leadership through professors (in ALL colleges), administrators and members of Student Government. It also needs to facilitate a curriculum that will, as Dr. Kevin Cokley puts it, “embrace the full aspects of the human experience.” This institution has lessons to learn from Black voices, and until it validates these voices and incorporates them into campus life, no student at UT will receive a complete education.

Bathea is an economics junior from Frisco.