December 7, 2019

Don’t silence an issue like diversity

“So are you, like, Spanish or something?” “Do you have a green card?” or the other hilarious “how I crossed the border” jokes are just some of the fun, welcoming conversations I’ve had at Webster University. I’m Hispanic. For those of you who don’t know, that means I come from a predominately Hispanic background. But I’m American, born and raised in Texas. No, I did not swim across the border. And no, I don’t care for burritos.

Almost anyone who has been to our campus has told me Webster University is diverse, and they weren’t wrong. We have a wide variety of ethnicities. What’s nice is there’s not a majority of just one culture — there is a bit of everything. A month into my freshman year, I was able to shake off the craving for tacos and understand that even though people have taken three or more years of Spanish, they still don’t know Spanish.

Aside from the ignorant comments I’ve heard, many students at Webster are welcoming and interested in learning about one another’s culture. However, this is merely based on my personal experience.

Last semester I took a class where the professor would say, “Now let’s hear from my Hispanic brothers and sisters,” referring to me. I was taken aback by this comment. I am aware I am different, but to be pointed out hurt. I knew the teacher meant well. He just wanted to learn more about my culture, and I was the only Latino in class.

I have heard other stories about faculty and staff making even more ignorant comments to students involving their cultures. But when we are young we are taught civil obedience. We learn to shrug off the ignorant comments made by people who don’t understand. Racism isn’t as clear as “whites only,” as it was in the past. It’s hidden in misassumptions and stereotypes.

But at Webster’s Officers’ Summit last fall, student leader Kayla Thompson spoke on behalf of all the students who felt Webster University claims to be an accepting diverse campus, yet the faculty and staff are not.

Diversity and safe zone training for faculty and staff became one of the top-five issues for Delegates’ Agenda. The presenters asked for diversity training and workshops, the resolving of harassment and discrimination complaints, a campus climate survey and a chief diversity officer. Since then, Webster University’s administration responded with a climate survey and the formation of a diversity student panel.

I was one of 10 members on the diversity student panel. The main goal was to hear student’s opinions about diversity at Webster. Although I believe it was an important topic, I feel it wasn’t very beneficial. Many of the students spoke about race and culture and left out religion and the LGBT community. I believe we showed that, yes, diversity is an issue at Webster. But we didn’t address how to fix it.

One question that remained on my mind was whether it was a lack of diverse faculty and staff representation or a lack of cultural understanding. Yes, it is nice to have professors from the same background as me. However, you can learn from anyone, no matter their background. Although I think it is beneficial to have a professor from Puerto Rico, I don’t need all of my teachers to be Latino. I need faculty and staff to be sensitive, tolerant and respectful of other people’s cultures.

Faculty and staff should go through diversity training. It’s a lack of understanding that brings ignorance. Although Webster has made its initial steps in addressing this issue right before the Delegates’ Agenda recap, I fear this issue might once again have to be put forward to the administration. Students will continue to be harassed. And Webster University will appear to be a welcoming, globally diverse campus to recruit more students who will feel the pain of an issue that should have been solved. Even though the world can be culturally unjust, it doesn’t mean we can’t start changing that right at home.

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