By Ashley Day, Editor-in-Chief–
UTC has made many strides when it comes to diversity, but some say there is still a long way to go. Studies have shown that increased diversity on college campuses leads to positive effects on the education and experiences of students, and Chancellor Steve Angle said it is one of the core values of UTC.
“Diversity is also a key component of a well-rounded educational experience,” he said. “Our students will work in a very diverse world and must be able to interact with and cooperate with individuals from a variety of backgrounds.”
Diversity comes in many shapes and sizes, referring to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, physical ability, veteran status and more.
Marshell Gilmore, president of the Black Student Alliance, believes racial diversity is extremely important in a university setting.
“There’s only so much you can learn from one group of people [or] one culture,” she said. “Each culture makes up a different part of the world, of the country, the community, of the setting. We are all so unique and different.”
Dr. Bryan Samuel, director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, works to support the recruitment of students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds to the university as well as ensure diversity and discrimination training for students, faculty and staff.
“Any time you think about the things that are very important to recruiting, enrolling, maintaining and ultimately graduating any student, diversity is right in there,” he said. “People want to be meaningfully engaged, they want to know that folks (employees and peers) are willing to work with them, understand them, accept them and help them grow to become that future doctor, lawyer, teacher, whatever they are subscribing to become.”
Samuel also said he thinks it is very important that students are able to discuss diversity issues in the classroom.
“If we are truly preparing our students for careers and opportunities in the global world, we have to have inclusion and we have to have a dialogue about diverse issues and topics in our classroom,” Samuel said. “If we can’t do it in the classroom, then how can we prepare you for those things?”
He said in the eight years he has been at UTC, several new programs have been added to appeal to diverse groups of students, such as HOLA, Spectrum, Veteran Student Services, the Muslim Student Association and more. He added that a more collaborative approach to programming has allowed campus opportunities to engage students from diverse backgrounds.
Samuel encourages students to learn about diverse cultures and identities who they have not historically been associated with. He said students can do this by participating in organizations, events and initiatives on campus that attract different groups of people.
Gilmore said she feels that UTC does not currently cater enough to the black student population.
“If you want to have a lot of black people in a room, a koozie and a yetti cup are not going to get our attention,” she said.
Since Fall 2008, UTC’s undergraduate ethnic demographics have remained mostly the same, with white students making up over 75 percent. The white and Hispanic populations have mostly grown over the years, while the black student population has decreased.
“The Black, non-Hispanic numbers have declined a bit, however the Hispanic numbers, which may include Black students, have increased, as have the multi-racial, non-Hispanic totals,” Angle said. “Additionally, our Unknown category has increased over the past few years. Furthermore, UTC experienced a substantial increase in the number of students who identified under the ‘Two or More Races’ category. This shift might explain the fluctuation in the numbers under the traditional race categories. This change in reporting and data categories makes it difficult to clearly understand the exact changes in numbers. Moving forward, we will need to work to ensure all groups are included and counted.”
Angle said the university is working to increase diversity in enrollment.
“The University has implemented several initiatives to increase ethnic diversity on campus including targeted recruiting promotions to students of color. UTC has also sponsored recruiting programs (application workshops, FAFSA How-to Sessions, etc.) in majority ethnic minority high schools to promote the advantages of attending UTC.”
Another challenge of being part of an obvious minority on campus, Gilmore said, is that she often feels that she is being used as a “token.”
“It feels great for someone to be able to say, ‘We even had the president of the Black Student Alliance on Campus,'” she said. “Well that’s great, but did you listen to what I had to say, is anything that came out of my mouth going to get used, did it serve any purpose? It’s one thing to say they were in the room, but it’s another to say, ‘Oh, it was her idea’ or ‘She planned this.'”
Simone Edwards, social issues, equity and diversity committee chair in SGA, also thinks UTC’s campus has a long way to go to improve race relations.
“Some of my friends were recently called racial slurs (the n word) while simply walking on McCallie by white sorority/fraternity members,” she said. “So that’s either because of the fact that they aren’t introduced to diverse thought or even diversity via race, etc. in their lives and classes, or there’s backlash from this recent presidential election.”
Edwards said that it’s not enough to just start conversations about diversity, but the best way to improve race relations is to have mandatory education about it.
“I also personally think that due to the fact that UTC has such a sorority/fraternity life culture, that implementing some sort of system of education centered around diversity training or something similar, starting with sorority/fraternity life, may be a good way to get a domino effect started,” she said. “I’ve been talking with the Echo for 2 years about diversity, and from my point of view, nothing has really changed besides the fact that people are trying. My committee is working to get more people involved and educated on diversity in general.”
Part of the mission of the BSA is to provide a space where black students can know they are welcomed and heard.
“We want to create an environment where we are sure that everyone is heard and that black students feel they have a safe space. We want to have a place where black students feel like they are first and feel like they can have a whole event geared towards them,” Gilmore said. “The discussions that we have are not going to be just pushed out the window and written down as a check mark, but the discussions are for clarity and understanding and are valued. We want black students to know that not only BSA, but our other 8 organizations are here to help and support whether it’s with a creative idea, schoolwork, or a case of homesickness.”
While the Black Student Alliance was created to support black students, it is not exclusive.
“It’s important that people know that while BSA is here to be the voice and light for black students, ALL of our events are open to anyone,” Gilmore said. “We don’t turn people away and we don’t call people out at any event. It doesn’t matter what you look like. While we are interested in the betterment of our own, we care for a love on anybody that’s interested us as a whole.”