Teaching is a tough job. The profession requires one to inspire, encourage and engage with their students. This becomes an even more difficult task when a teacher and student are coming from two different cultures. At the University of Texas at Austin, our overwhelmingly white faculty, through no fault of their own, has failed to adequately support the needs and dreams of its minority students.
A study conducted by John Hopkins and American University found that white teachers had particularly low expectations for their black students, especially black males. These teachers were less likely than their black coworkers to believe that their black students would graduate high school and go on to college.
At UT Austin, we have a teaching staff composed of 66.4% White and 5.4% Black professors. A majority of these black professors can be found in the African and African Diaspora Studies Departments (AFR), which is great for the black students who study AFR, but what about the rest of us? Who believes in and encourages the black engineers, the black mathematicians or the black scientists?
Ethnic representation, or lack thereof, in college faculties matters for students. It affected me that, growing up, the only school faculty I saw who looked like me were either coaches or custodians. It affected me when I had my first black professor my freshman year of college and suddenly felt a connection to a classroom culture I didn’t know existed before–a culture that looked a whole lot like mine.
This connection is particularly important for minorities who are first generation college students. When a minority student sits in a classroom led by someone who looks like them, the limitations that were once placed on them are slowly lifted. They’re no longer confined to a football field or a garbage can. Whether it’s a Master’s or a PhD, for the first time they have proof that it’s achievable.
This isn’t merely a Black and White issue. Asians make up 23% of our student body, yet there are only 5.5% Asian professors teaching here. Latinos are also underrepresented in multiple departments. Unfortunately, UT largely consists of white professors trying to connect with an increasingly diverse student body. A more representative faculty would create better relationships between professors and students.
Having a diverse teaching staff doesn’t solely benefit minority students. Research indicates that diverse environments help foster various kinds of creativity for all students. We mature as people and as students as we begin to understand that the same world can be experienced in a thousand different ways. On a campus as uniformly white as ours, we can only grow so much.
Student bodies are temporary, but a faculty is a lot more stable. Our leaders and educators here on campus are the longstanding representatives of who we are as a university.
Yet these leaders look nothing like me. They look nothing like the international student who sacrificed so much to be here. They look nothing like the Latino student whose immigrant parents gave up everything in hopes that they could live a better life. But they should. Every student in every major deserves to be represented and, more importantly, deserves to be supported.
Brookins is a junior psychology major from McKinney. Follow her on Twitter @kenneteaa.