Campus diversity is more than selling point for admissions

Jacob Schmidt

These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a university that doesn’t promote diversity as essential to education. Schools employ massive financial and legal resources recruiting kids from different backgrounds on the premise that diversity benefits all students, not just minorities. But it’s not enough to dump the politically correct mix of ethnicities onto a campus, expecting magic to happen — realizing the benefits of diversity requires changes from students and schools alike.

Social osmosis on campus can be difficult. Students tend to self-segregate, hindering cultural exchange. Demanding schedules inhibit our ability to nurture many relationships — it’s easier to rely on our default social group for the majority of our cultural experiences. But these groups — especially popular ones such as Greek institutions, spirit groups and student organizations — can be quite homogeneous and exclusive.

Most universities have resources that can help offset this, and UT is no exception. According to its website, UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement seeks to “cultivate an inclusive campus culture that actively and intentionally engages diverse people, ideas, and perspectives to create a vibrant learning and working environment,” and its Multicultural Engagement Center helps accomplish this mission.

The DDCE 2013-2014 Impact Report (the most current edition and available only in print and upon request) discloses that only 2,200 people at a school of over 51,000 attended any of the Center’s diversity-promoting events.

As an average white boy, my cultural experiences have fallen short of what UT promises. On the DDCE’s website, its Vice President, Gregory Vincent, says, “all students, regardless of their backgrounds, benefit from a diverse learning environment.” Having searched for these benefits for three semesters, I’ve not come up empty-handed — just underwhelmed. The cultural moments I expected to be most poignant felt dilute, contrived or disingenuous.

Take last year’s celebration of Holi, the annual Hindu tradition also called the festival of love, where hundreds of UT students threw colored powder on one another while dancing to pop music. It was certainly fun, but I absorbed more Hindu culture reading the Holi wikipedia page.

Diversity is now a standard school metric, advertised just like average GPA and graduate starting salary. If the University truly believes in diversity’s value — if it’s not just taking the politically correct position — it must get serious about engaging all students in meaningful, honest cultural experiences like the ones the DDCE and other organizations host. Likewise, students must demand more of themselves and their organizations to embrace discussions, curiosities and concerns about race.

The interactions we have in college are formative. I — like every Longhorn — will leave UT having learned a lesson about diversity. Let’s hope it’s the right one.

Schmidt is a physics and aerospace engineering sophomore from Austin. Follow him on Twitter @heyjakers.