College of Liberal Arts committee launches project to support minority students and faculty

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Photo Credit: Rocky Higine | Daily Texan Staff

The College of Liberal Arts’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee created a new initiative to support students and faculty in minority communities and retain faculty of color at the University. 

Co-chair Karma Chávez said the committee began developing The Gender, Race, Indigeneity, Disability and Sexual Studies (GRIDS) Initiative last school year by creating the new undergraduate major in race, indigeneity and migration. Chávez said the initiative was then created to encourage interest in the major and help minority students and faculty feel accepted at the University.

Co-chair Cherise Smith said the initiative will create a community where people of color and other minorities can interact with people studying in the same areas.

“It is an effort to hire faculty to UT that would study, in a collaborative way, issues surrounding gender, race, indigeneity, disability studies but also think in a critical way about gains and losses that have been made over time regarding the study of those different identity positions,” Smith said.  

 

Chávez said COLA is currently hiring two postdoctoral students and two assistant professors to teach classes related to the race, indigeneity and migration major and the initiative.

“The University has a significant problem with retention of diverse faculty,” said Chávez, chair of the department of Mexican American and Latina/o studies. “What we want to do is not just bring people in and sprinkle them around campus and hope they grow like wildflowers. We actually want to bring diverse, smart faculty in as a cohort of people who will work together … and support each other.”

According to the Vice Provost of Diversity’s website, the faculty within all colleges at the University are at least 62% white and liberal arts faculty are 75% white. Texas’ population is estimated to be about 79% white, according to July 2018 population estimates from the Federal Census Bureau. 

Smith said she is concerned that people do not recognize the University’s efforts to improve diversity and increase inclusion and that she hopes the initiative will help retain a diverse faculty and student body.

The committee will host an open house for liberal arts students and faculty to learn about the initiative on Nov. 18 at Bellmont Hall, Smith said. Next semester, Chávez said the project will start an undergraduate class called Migration Crisis and a speaker series with the same name. 

Chávez said the initiative itself is currently unfunded and has been developed through volunteer work. 

Frida Silva, diversity director of the Liberal Arts Council, said the initiative sounds beneficial to liberal arts minorities but feels almost like a “Band-Aid” to a larger issue. 

 “If UT really wants to support faculty of color, they have to give the resources, and they have to create an environment where these professors want to come to UT,” said Silva, an English and health and society junior. “If the accolades that UT has gotten isn’t enough to attract and retain faculty of color, then that’s a sign of a bigger issue with the culture and … the lack of resources they are given.”