From the moment prospective students hear from UT, they are met with brochures of various grinning faces forced together under a heading of “Diversity.” The term continues to get tossed around throughout the college application process, orientations and information sessions, until the college experience is made to seem like an environment of constant validation, representation and protection for marginalized students. Needless to say, it isn’t.
Students of color come to UT with these proclamations of diversity in mind, yet the reality on campus sits in stark contrast to those choreographed smiles. There is no information in the brochures about how to feel comfortable being the only black male in your honors college class, and orientation sessions don’t cover how to feel safe when you’re walking alone in West Campus and racial epithets are hurled. Platforms capitalize on the buzzword of “diversity,” knowing that by vocalizing any sort of commitment to people of color that votes and support will roll en masse. No university wants to advertise a distaste for diversity, so UT’s focus — especially concerning recent events — is the logical move for an institution to take. Yet these approaches forget what diversity actually is: not statements of inclusion, but actual, tangible acts.
In the aftermath of events on campus that threatened the safety and humanity of students of color, a number of statements were issued and dialogues were hosted, overlooking the necessity of actionable steps to preserve the integrity of students of color. Diversity has been adopted to mean a collection of students — wherein students of particular communities may not even be given a platform — sitting in a circle and discussing the problems marginalized students face. Whether it be a town hall or a focus group, those with privilege and power are able to walk away with the satisfaction that they maintained this “commitment” to diversity while those these events affect are left to their frustrations. No amount of dialogue will remedy the fact that I walk around a campus with statues and buildings dedicated to people who believed that I and those like me are inferior. A flowery statement with official letterhead will not bring underrepresented students into honors programs, nor will it assuage feelings of isolation that accompany being the only black student present in a classroom. Diversity is a term used not to actually benefit students of color, but as a form of self-gratification for those not affected by issues that diversity entails.
Diversity is representation. Diversity is not the presence of diverse bodies on a campus, but a platform given to those students and issues critical to students of color being addressed in tangible manners. Diversity is not recruiting students of color for the sole benefit of providing more thoughtful discussions and increasing percentages in a pie chart, but providing opportunities that have been systematically denied to us. Diversity is not easy — it is not a matter of speech and nothing else, but of actively addressing the problems students of color encounter. No matter how many students we can cram into an auditorium for a debate, it will not undo the fact that the foundation of UT was constructed on the exclusion of people of color. It will not undo the fact that students must defend their humanity daily on this campus to students, professors and administrators, and that our experiences are co-opted as fodder for enticing votes, support and validation.
Diversity is not your tool. Diversity is how we exist.
Hood is an English and sociology freshman from Lubbock.