SMU slowly improves diversity

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Source: smu.edu/AboutSMU/Facts/CampusProfile. Photo credit: Allie Zoranski

Dozens of Southern Methodist University’s students marched down Bishop Boulevard on SMU’s campus on March 27, 2013, for a rally against discrimination on campus. The march ended at the flagpole in the middle of the campus. There, students spoke out about their experiences, concerns and demands for change.

Oscar Cetina, an SMU senior who helped organize the rally, said, “The purpose of the rally was to raise awareness on campus of the incidents that had happened, … show the University that this is a problem and that it should treated with the urgency it deserves, and to empower to people to speak up against racial and ethnically charged incidents and not be a bystander when they see something happened.”

The rally was a response to the numerous acts of discrimination that had happened over the past few years. During the 2011 homecoming celebrations, the wooden Peruna that the Association of Black Students and College Hispanic American Students collaborated on decorating was vandalized. After a September 2012 boulevard, the Multicultural Student Affairs banner was punctured and thrown into a tree. A Boaz Hall resident wrote that “black people picking cotton” made him happy. Lastly, about a month before the March rally, a group of young men in a black SUV threw rocks, shot water guns and yelled racial slurs at an Asian-American student, according to Cetina. These are only a few of the major incidents that have occurred on campus.

However, in recent years, the administration has paid more attention to minority students and has taken baby steps to improve diversity. Change on campus is happening, just at a slow pace, as minority students still feel alienated.

In fall 2012, SMU President R. Gerald Turner created a group, SMU’s Commission on the Status of Racial Minorities, which consists of 25 students, faculty members and administrators of diverse backgrounds. Some members of the group are Rick Halperin, a human rights professor, and Director of Multicultural Student Affairs Creston Lynch. The group examines diversity issues on campus and makes recommendations to President Turner.

This year, SMU has raised $180 million in scholarships. “Scholarship funds are critical as SMU actively diversifies its enrollment. The campus has been seen as an outpost of well-heeled, well-connected families. But the truth is, SMU’s enrollment today is 25 percent minority, up sharply from even a decade ago. Financial aid will let SMU keep broadening its reach,” according to a September article from The Dallas Morning News.

Making SMU more diverse is important for its students’ learning outside the classroom. SMU Journalism Professor Karen Thomas said, “We are part of a global society. Universities and colleges, including SMU, can offer students exposure to different cultures, viewpoints and perspectives. And such exposure is necessary not only to compete and succeed in the world career-wise, but to also grow as human beings.”

With a growing minority enrollment, SMU has seen minority students become more prominent on campus. Many minority students are in leadership roles. The majority of this year’s Student Senate Executive Committee is comprised of multicultural students. “I do see that as a sign of progress,” Thomas said.

Another place multicultural representation on campus can be seen is with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. It provides support and opportunities for students of color to get involved. The office wants to create an environment that encourages inclusivity and an understanding of different cultures, according to the Multicultural Student Affairs website.

“I love the efforts of the [Multicultural Student Affairs office], and I feel their efforts have increased ever since I came to SMU. But, on the same side of the token, it’s sad. It’s only the [Multicultural Student Affairs office] trying to diversify and educate the student body. You don’t see it any other places, and you don’t see it among white people,” said Leah Johnson, an SMU junior.

Although SMU has made progress in increasing the prominence of minority students, there is still more to be done. Minority students still feel isolated from the majority of the student body, according to Johnson.

Cetina said, “Talk to any student of color on campus and [those] major events are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to feeling excluded, discriminated, or made to [feel] unwanted or not the same because of their race or ethnicity.”

Many people on campus are not aware of the extent that discrimination still exists on campus, according to Cetina. Talking about the areas that still need improvement is an effective way to stimulate further changes.

“We have very dedicated people who are working everyday toward this goal, but it still always feels like it is made to be the minorities job to end the discrimination, when in reality it is everyone’s,” said Cetina.

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