UT-Austin business students, engineering alumni call for increased anti-racist efforts

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UT engineering alumni discuss the progress of reforms for increased diversity and inclusion efforts made by student organizations to the Cockrell School of Engineering on Aug. 21, 2020. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kimberly Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

The Black Business Student Association and UT Engineering Alumni have made public statements calling for increased representation and inclusion for UT students, faculty and staff of color, prompting the University to take action.

BBSA released a statement on June 29, which called for more Texas Exes scholarships for Black students, a McCombs’ required diversity flag, a safe space for underrepresented students in McCombs efforts to recruit and retain black students, and town halls with the Dean to discuss experiences of marginalized students. The statement was signed by members of BBSA and other signatures of support, including other students organizations and alumni.

The engineering alumni statement asked for more representation for people of color in the Cockrell School of Engineering, including more diverse faculty and a safe space for Cockrell students of color. 

Cockrell alumna Saamiya Seraj, who helped write the letter, said the University was falling behind in its commitments to anti-racist efforts compared to other schools across the country. Cockrell comprises 3% Black undergraduates and 1.5% Black faculty, according to a 2019 presentation from the school titled Recruiting Diverse Engineering Students.

“What we’re really pushing for is a cultural shift within the Cockrell school,” Seraj said. “This includes … having more diverse voices in the Cockrell school leadership. In our talks with the Cockrell school leadership, we’ve only met up with white faculty and staff.”

 

Christine Julien, the Cockrell assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, said all Cockrell staff and faculty applicants are now required to submit a diversity statement detailing how they've made their workplaces more inclusive in the past or how they plan on doing so at UT. Cockrell is also changing their recruitment process to focus on underrepresented applicants, Julien said.

“We did more proactive soliciting and recruiting of applications, using mailing lists, meetings and groups that tend to have more (underrepresented applicants) in them,” Julien said.

Cockrell alumni were given a chance to look at the diversity report initiated by the school, which will include progress updates and data on the school’s diversity initiatives, such as increasing diversity among Cockrell staff, Seraj said. 

“They have given us a lot of leaders and also made some commitments, but we’ve noticed a lack of deadline in the commitments that were made,” Seraj said. “We pushed for transparency, we pushed for evaluation metrics and we pushed for deadlines.”

The Cockrell annual diversity report will be published the first week of September, unless some major deficiency is brought up that hasn't come up in any of the previous reviews, Julien said.

Raji Srinivasan, the McCombs associate dean of diversity and inclusion, said the school is removing pictures of donors — who are mainly white men — from the building and creating a lounge for Black students within the College of Business Administration featuring photos and stories of alumni of color.

Srinivasan said McCombs is also attempting to create a more inclusive environment by raising scholarship money for students of color.

“An area where we will have more difficulty is diversity in faculty recruiting,” Srinivasan said. “We need to do much better. There are many opportunities for improvement. Our faculty do not represent our students.”