By Brandon Brigham
SMU is a remarkable university with great opportunities for students to excel professionally and build connections in the work force. It has made great strides in academics, great strides in alumni giving and great strides in making a presence both nationally and internationally.
However, diversity is still lacking on the Hilltop; black students still feel alienated at social events and organizations. When will this cutting-edge university make great strides in diversity?
In the fall of 2012, I came to SMU as a transfer student from a public university. I was also a graduate of a public high school. I heard whispers that SMU was more diverse than ever. They were faint whispers, but nonetheless, whispers of change at the university. I believed them. But they were wrong.
A beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon, I traveled to campus to tailgate at the much talked about, highly anticipated, Boulevard. Tents covered the campus and students pranced around the Boulevard dressed in blue and red displaying their enthusiasm for our lackluster football team. Everyone dressed the same. Everyone looked the same. White.
The vibe in the atmosphere was exclusion. Immediately I felt unwelcomed when I tried to join my classmates under certain tents. With my pride bruised and my dignity shattered, I migrated to the Association of Black Students table where I was greeted, welcomed and embraced.
The next Monday morning, I was notified by one of my new friends from ABS that their sign had been placed in a tree upside down. This is when I knew that SMU students did not care about my history, my people, or me. My heart was chilled. My brain was puzzled. I felt discouraged from ever feeling like I could make SMU a safe place, or carry the same abundance of pride as my fellow classmates.
The problem at SMU is a problem a lot of people face in society. People tend to cling to other people who look like them or come from the same neighborhood. When placed in a new setting, we exclude those people who appear to be different than we are used to.
Unconsciously, we ask ourselves, “what do we have in common?” We assume nothing because their skin might be darker or fairer. Separating ourselves by these standards is damaging because there’s no room for diversity. Exclusion will happen – and it has taken over the SMU campus.
One could argue that maybe this ideology could be carried into the admission process, consideration of leadership roles, faculty and staff, leaving many people excluded from the university.
President Turner addressed racism in higher education as the nation paid great attention to the bigotry that happened with the men of the Greek organization, SAE, at the University of Oklahoma.
“Our responsibilities include encouraging and exhibiting respect for each other, supporting the diversity that SMU values as an institution of higher education,” he wrote in an email.
I assessed his words carefully and wondered if it’s just persuasive rhetoric or a call for action.
He encouraged the entire university – staff and faculty included – to have meaningful conversation about the disparaging and racial comments made at OU.
Again, great rhetoric, but the change is among the students interaction with one another. Of course, the SMU community could use more black faculty and staff members. I’ve been at SMU three years and have only had two black professors.
The backbone of this issue will be students reaching out to people who don’t look like them. It’s important to encourage interaction among students of all different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. This will inspire students of color to feel like they are an intricate part of campus and they’re not forgotten. This interaction among all students can reach outside of campus and inspire more students of color who have the idea that they’re not welcomed to want to go to SMU.
SMU is a nationally ranked university and should be viewed as an institution of diversity to match its level of academic and research achievements.