UD’s own struggle with race needs examination: Hibbs says silencing students on Instagram unacceptable

16
2091
On June 2, the UD official Instagram page posted a controversial advertisement during global protests against police brutality and racism.

The events of these past weeks, particularly the May 25 murder of George Floyd by now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, have exposed massive problems on all levels of society. This blatant and fatal incident of racism has also shed light on the University of Dallas’ own problems, as many UD students feel galvanized into speaking out about racial tensions within our own university.

As social media feeds are inundated with images of peaceful protesters brutalized by government force, UD posted an Instagram and Facebook advertisement for the Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business on June 2. In the most terrifying and uncertain time of my life, the first communication I received from the place I call “home” was an ad for our business school.

When many students protested against the ad’s “tone-deaf” timing, the UD Instagram administrator hid 54 out of 78 “off-topic” comments, many of which came from UD students of color who were then blocked from commenting further on the post. 

Senior Natalie Villafranca, who commented against the ad, wrote for this interview, “I think the comment war between students and the UD communications department was a really unfortunate censorship situation. None of the comments were anything offensive. Rather than UD’s communications department address the problem, they silenced their students who were practicing independent thinking.”

A few hours after this ad was posted, President Thomas Hibbs released a statement titled “Pursuit of Justice.” Hibbs emphasized the importance of faith and education, as well as “the responsibility to redouble our efforts, in both prayer and action, for an end to racism, and peace among all God’s peoples.” 

When the UD Instagram page posted an excerpt of the speech, I deeply appreciated Hibbs’ message, but felt that “action” was missing in UD’s response. Although I am a white student, I have witnessed many disturbing incidents against people of color (POC) at UD. I commented on the Instagram post, describing my experience and calling for further action and communication. Within a few minutes, my comment was hidden and all further comments on the post were limited, according to a screen recording from senior Hannah Green. 

Sophomore Gia Galvez wrote, “I get that they are allowed to delete comments that don’t relate to a post made, but students were begging for some sort of support from the institution, and silencing them by restricting their comments was not the way to go. I’m glad they ended up addressing the matter at hand, but myself and other students are a bit bummed out that it took this much to get a statement out of UD- it almost seemed a bit forced, if anything.” 

Galvez continued, “I’m sure UD means well, but as a Catholic institution they are called to love and accept everyone, especially in times of need like these.”

In an email for this article, Hibbs responded with disgust towards the way the situation had unfolded on social media, which he himself does not frequent. 

“I had no idea that a staff person in advancement was deleting or hiding posts on social media. As soon as Jason Trujillo [Vice President of University Advancement] realized it was happening, he put a stop to it,” Hibbs wrote. “As you note, this only reinforced the impression in the minds of some students and alumni (and perhaps faculty and staff) that UD is indifferent to persons of color. I remain angry about this callous and foolish decision. It will not happen again.”

To gather more information about racial issues, UD’s Human Resources department will soon be sending out a survey to students, faculty and staff, according to Hibbs. “We need to hear from all members of our community and especially from persons of color,” Hibbs wrote. 

Hibbs is planning more events to discuss issues of race, including virtual events during the coronavirus pandemic. HR will also be “communicating to faculty and staff our clear standards concerning racism.”

“But we need to do more than simply be against racism,” Hibbs wrote. “We need to be the sort of community that recognizes the contributions to our Church … our society, and our university.”

I strongly hope that the UD administration proves itself to act with students on issues of discrimination.

While some may argue that UD as an institution and community is exempt from the racial tensions plaguing our general society, the experience of many students, most importantly students of color, says otherwise. At times, my own Catholic faith has been shaken by these incidents at our Catholic university. 

I have been shocked to see how discrimination and insensitivity seem to be flourishing at UD, from pervasive use of the n-word to professors questioning whether racism is even really an issue anymore.

During my first TGIT as a prospective student in 2016, an intoxicated swarm of students finished the National Anthem with a rousing chant of “BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL!” 

A Latina friend was initially prevented from forming a club for Hispanic political concerns because “we already have the Spanish club,” although the Spanish club is only cultural and linguistic. Student attempts to start a Black Student Union and reinstate a Multicultural Appreciation club have also been shut down. 

When we push out the outside world and the current problems plaguing our communities, we do ourselves and the entire world a disservice in limiting our own horizons.

The Instagram feud may seem trivial, but the “silencing” it generated is indicative of many problems which students of color and even white supporters face while trying to speak out at UD. I interviewed twelve  Hispanic, Asian, and black students to find out more about their experiences at UD.

Senior Guadalupe Torres felt that her experience had been ignored at UD. “I can’t stress enough how frustrated POC students are here. I’ve seen so many transfer and the rest of us are just here in silence,” she said. “I just hope that we can change things on campus and move forward in the right direction.”

The fact that some UD students would transfer based partially or wholly on feeling mistreated because of their racial and ethnic differences indicates further problems. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 6-year graduation rate from fall 2012 at UD was 70% for white students, 67% for Asian students, 57% for Hispanic students, and only 20% for black students.

Senior Andrea Saldivar described frustration similar to Torres. “I think that UD means well (mostly) but I think that its student body and faculty are not responding enough to the growing diversity on campus.”

“Going to a PWI [primarily white institution] I felt a certain pressure to prove myself academically and in every other way,” Saldivar wrote. “My first year here I got involved in everything I could to feel “a part” of the community- I was on student gov, worked at the cap bar, and tried to make friends with everyone.”

“After an incident with OSA, I knew that my voice and my experience at this campus was never going to be important … I wasn’t the only POC who felt that way,” Saldivar continued. “In fact, tensions with freshman POC and OSA in 2017-2018 were so high, I actually compiled complaints to shed light on it. Nothing really came from it.”

“Don’t even get me started on how friendships are basically handed down from sibling to sibling, making it near impossible to enter in a group without being someone’s daughter or younger sister,” Saldivar wrote. “And maybe that in itself isn’t racist, but it’s exclusionary, and a group most affected by that is first and second generation POC students.”

A senior male international student, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation or pity, lacked support from UD when he arrived in the U.S. Most universities “send people from different university clubs to receive international students at the airport, and those student groups help with settling down and shopping. We have none of that at UD to comfort new international students,” the source wrote.

“People made fun of me about how I had just a few clothes … as there was a limit to how much luggage you could carry,” he wrote. “Once … this guy started asking me questions, if I live in slums, how did I find my way to the States, all that nonsense. It brought up insecurities in me and led to mental imbalance.”

“I’ve been called names just because I am POC,” the source continued. “There is like, nowhere to report this. There is no awareness about racist activities happening around. We have awareness days for mental health, we have days for relationship abuse, then why can’t we have awareness for racial abuse? There are people in UD who ‘talk down’ to POC, who are we supposed to go to for reporting that?”

Senior Jazmin Gudino also felt that she and other POC have often been ignored by others. “When people in general (including me) have tried to speak up against racism … people often say ‘it’s just a joke’ or ‘you’re so sensitive,'” Gudino wrote. “Doing this ultimately translates to ‘I’m too privileged to understand why you’re upset at this racist remark because I haven’t experienced it and frankly I don’t care to understand.'”

She saw similarities in this disregard when non-black people use the n-word, despite black people speaking out and explaining why they should not. “People doing these kinds of things refuse to acknowledge their privilege, while also revealing that they don’t care about racism,” she wrote. “If they did, they would make sure to actively avoid participating in it whatsoever … instead, people have justified themselves in speaking over the people who experience these very things.”

Gudino also spoke against the racism of “fetishizing” another person’s race. “Dating or showing interest in someone exclusively for their race (OR refusing to because of their race) are both problematic things,” she wrote. “Personally, I’ve had to deal with the whole “spicy Latina” thing … Although people may think they’re complimenting me, they’re not.”

“I’m a proud Latina, but don’t reduce me to that and the stereotypes that come with it,” Gudino wrote. “I’m a kind Latina, I’m a Latina that likes to draw, I’m a classically trained Latina. But all of those things have to do with me and my interests, not my ethnicity.”

Gudino encouraged the UD administration to be an “active ally” for people of color. 

“People in higher positions … have to do more than just condemning racism when it happens, but be actively against it. If no one other than students of color, along with their allies, are calling racism out, some people will still think it’s okay. Administration…should embrace the topic of race,” Gudino wrote. “Talking about race isn’t controversial, being racist should be controversial. If people participate in racism or hate speech of any kind, they should receive consequences for their actions.”

Senior Joshua Nunn explained that the UD community and institution had not necessarily intended to exclude him, but he pointed out aspects of UD which contributed to potential discomfort. 

“I wouldn’t say I have experienced direct discrimination. But I do feel there is much to be desired in terms of welcoming black students,” Nunn wrote. “While UD doesn’t deliberately do anything to ‘unwelcome’ students, they aren’t doing anything to welcome black students. We don’t have any black clubs, the music at such events as TGIT and Groundhog makes it undesirable for most students of color to go.”

Nunn pointed out problems within the UD education in creating perspective. “There aren’t any classes about our true history, and the one class that does mention it is in Am Civ where we get a glossed over textbook version of our history,” he wrote. “We need more education for our ‘independent thinkers’ in the making. Many [students’] stances on the topic … are unknowingly biased to not much of their own fault. It is simply how they could have been raised or their lack of exposure to the topic of true systemic racism.”

“I am also surprised at the lack of response out of the pro-life movement,” Nunn wrote. “We are supposed to care about life from womb to tomb, yet I have heard nothing.”

Sophomore An Vu echoed Nunn in not feeling discriminated against, but urged further conversation about racism. “My experience at UD has actually been great. I have not experienced any racism or any feelings of exclusion,” Vu wrote. “The only thing I can think of is their statement released earlier this week. They did not acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement, which is the prime focus of society today.” 

“I believe that if they don’t speak up and are active in changes, such as listening to other students’ complaints and opinions, there will never be complete equality for all minority groups,” Vu continued. “If they can’t acknowledge the biggest racism issue, which is towards Black people, how can they focus on smaller groups- Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans? I just have been very fortunate to not encounter any issues, but many seem to have.”

Sophomore Lauryn Locksey hopes that UD can create a better environment for people of color. 

“I believe that it is important that UD creates a more diverse community, not only in order to help POC already attending,” Locksey wrote. “It’s also to ensure that the POC there feel safe and ‘seen’ enough to recommend to incoming freshmen or perspectives that UD is very welcoming to a diverse community and showing it as well through the education, clubs, etc.”

Alumna Farai Muvirimi, B.S. ’20, recounted her experience as a black international student and shared many incidents of discrimination, genuinely too many to include in the article. “Once as I was driving back to campus with my aunt, I saw a KKK/white supremacy march,” she wrote of an event she saw in Irving, not far from campus. “I was scared to be outside after class for a while after that and no one ever mentioned it or denounced it.” 

“Last year … KKK/white supremacy literature was found in various car parks. There was never an official statement about that and I mentioned it to [OSA] that I don’t think it was handled properly. Nothing was ever officially released,” Muvirimi said.

“I also think our focus solely on European culture lends itself to being insensitive to others’ cultures,” Muvirimi wrote. During an SG meeting, a student asked Muvirimi about her language and culture. “She then proceeded to ask me what HER name meant in my language. I told her it meant nothing and she told me that my language was stupid … Apart from not being how language works, it highlights an entitlement to others’ cultures and an inability to understand there are people and cultures that aren’t tied to Europe.”

She heard the n-word in classes and in primarily white friend groups, and described microaggressions, “annoying comments about my hair and body, and people who love to tell me facts about my race.”

Muvirimi felt that she was chosen as the “comfortable” option for international student senator for Student Government, as she had lived in the U.S. previously and did not have an accent. She also urged faculty to be more sensitive towards international students, whom she saw often being disregarded in class because of their accents. “If a student has an accent, don’t just use that as an excuse to ignore them in class,” she wrote.

A senior international student who requested anonymity for fear of suffering retaliation and exposing the identities of other students in her story described an encounter which reveals how some UD groups will go along with racist incidents. She also asked for her home country to remain unnamed for fear of exposure. 

“In a TGIT my freshman year, the theme revolved around your country and your flag. I took a little flag from my place of birth. I was proud to carry it around. It brought me comfort because I was carrying something that meant so much to me,” she wrote. 

“I put it down at a table where this guy threw his giant USA flag on top of mine. I called him out on it because to me it was disrespectful and the way he threw it over, I could tell it was on purpose,” she continued. “He said, ‘My flag will always be on top of yours.’ I asked him what he meant by that and he said, ‘The USA owns you. You are below us.'”

“The people around him laughed and I walked away but I remember feeling ashamed,” she said. “I wasn’t proud anymore that I was carrying a different flag from the majority of them.” 

She  explained ways she thinks that UD can make it difficult for students to thrive. “I recognize and appreciate the actions that many student led organizations have done to show their support towards people of color. The thing at UD is that the norm has been the same for so long that if you stand out even in the slightest way, you will be excluded,” she said. 

These brief interviews only brush the surface of the experiences of people of color at UD, and I hope that we will all work together to speak the truth and promote justice for many years to come. 

“For any changes to occur, people need to open their hearts and change how they proceed towards people that are different. From different backgrounds and different skin tones,” the female anonymous source wrote. “Our differences don’t make us less or more … we are equal. All the same. We can learn and grow with each other.”

16 COMMENTS

  1. This is a beautiful piece, thank you Gwen for bringing all these important stories to light, and thank you to all those who shared their testimonies. This is an important moment to open the eyes of so many to long-standing discrimination and injustice, and hopefully this piece will bring more conversation, understanding and support on our campus, which so desperately needs it.

  2. This article is horse crap. UD needs to realize its MAJORITY of its students and large Alumni base….are REPUBLICAN. At least not left wing communists like this article is pandering to as usual. Get real. Will never donate a penny to UD with garbage like this being published.

    • I am (or was) a republican, but I don’t make an idol of politics. This is an article about human experience and all it’s asking from it’s readers is to consider another human’s experience. Above all, we should seek the truth of a situation and allow that to inform our position. Don’t look to your political party to inform your position; UD taught you better than that. Be an independent thinker, for goodness sakes.

    • Also, name calling and reductionism is ugly and hurtful and I find it so sad that your response shows such little regard for other human beings.

    • John Right, didn’t you learn about the dangers of the tyranny of the majority at UD? Every time a Republican leaves such a hateful comment on an article addressing these problems, it makes me more determined to find a new political home, or to at least be politically homeless. I voted Republican for over 20 years, but I’m done being associated with such hateful garbage. And I’m glad that UD is at least attempting to address racism in its own house.

    • Our University motto is “Love Ye Truth and Justice,” and this article clearly loves both. Alumni should be proud that UD has such articulate students writing for its newsletter who are following the University motto so well.
      Also, the University of Dallas is a Catholic institution, not a Republican institution, and this article is entirely in line with and beautifully supports statements that have come out from Pope Francis, the USCCB, and from the Bishops of the Diocese of Dallas. No one political party perfectly follows all the Church’s teachings. To decide how to act politically as Catholics we often need to look at a variety of political points of view and pick and choose the ones that reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ. Christ listened to and supported the marginalized in the way that this article does. Christ also, like the author, didn’t fear to bring to light what was ugly in society, so that it could be mended and cleansed. The author should be commended on a beautifully written and very thoroughly done article. The day that UD doesn’t allow varied political discourse in its newspaper would be a very sad day indeed.

    • I like to think a “majority” of UD students and alumni are devoted to the pursuit of objective truth through reason and dialogue. As such, I’d like to think a majority put God and country before party, and reject tribal labels like Republican or Democrat impede that search for truth and justice.

  3. Sunlight is a good disinfectant. Thank you, John Right, for putting out into the light your small-minded, ignorant ideas. Now let the light do its work.

  4. Dear John,

    Are you suggesting that the definition of Republican is “racist”? Surely they’re about small government, affirming life, etc. Surely racism isn’t a necessary part of who they are.

  5. I appreciate this post for shedding light on examples of students mistreating each other. Thank you, Gwen, for executing this article in such exquisite detail. We must pray for justice, and we must intercede when we are witness to this; but also we must act to prevent it by increasing awareness of the diversity of our student population.

  6. Fantastic article. I especially appreciate how you portrayed many different cultures and nationalities at UD and each of their respective struggles. As just another white guy at the school — but one that was lucky enough to have friends of many different cultures) — I have to say that bigotry and stereotyping seem to be fairly commonplace occurrences here, sadly. Especially in comparison to other colleges, UD’s white (and, for the most part, incredibly sheltered) population is very clique-esque. I feel bad for students of color who attend this school.

    This piece really illustrates the problem I had with President Hibbs’ email on George Floyd. Symbolic language with no action — even worse, previous action which led to POCs on campus feeling more suppressed. I suspect, with people like “John Right” (probably not a troll?) Pres. Hibbs’ failure to take a stance beyond “what a tragedy!” is directly linked to the fact that the University of Dallas is among the most conservative schools in the nation, and does not want to displease their various donors (who, whether they realize it or not, are contributing to the wrong side of the national conversation with their “AllLivesMatter” shtick.

    I hope that the bad taste in your mouth that you receive from the vitriol that comes from your writing this story can be lessened by students who will support you and the piece for what it is: an uncomfortable truth & possibly the best article I’ve read from the UDallas News. From a fellow UD news writer 🙂

  7. UD is writing this piece, in my opinion, to cover up the racism alone that occurs. No progression has occurred, nothing has been addressed to the UD community, and whomever can get mad all they want but that proves who is the problem. UD allows student to write articles in the paper that show racism, sexist (calling some men peterpans that no one wants), and just down right ignorant…. the issue is deeper than racism, so Hibbs, Jason, and whomever else need to listen. The UD BUBBLE and white priveledge mentality needs to be addressed. You cant have a motto of seeking truth and justice then dont practice it. “John right” is correct and yall are mad

    • And while I dont agree with name calling, politics is an issue because when a student bring us politics in the newsletters they name call and bring down other parties. Your shamed if you are different and with UD being such a beautiful place it needs to fix the root of the problems. Many of it starts with staff and student leaders, UD recruits a certain type and it shows, and if you disagree then you’re in denial. By all means I love it, but I do feel like I am going against my moral being there by the words I hear and the discrimination I see….not just with race. Praying for resolutions everyday.

  8. The point made by professors in the UD Politics Department (in classes that I have actually taken) has long been that progressivism violated the equality principle of the Declaration of Independence. Let’s admit that that position, whatever you think of it, is now unfashionable. Universalist theories of politics are now supposed to be unable to address the particular experiences of minority students. The full consequences of this are obvious. Students who sympathize with the positions in this article will, inevitably, petition for hiring of more minority faculty (not “tokens,” mind you, but those introducing “controversial” systems of critical theory and systemic racism). They will also demand reductions to the core curriculum because it only speaks to white students. This is what happened at Reed College, until the Western core was reduced to a few optional classes. And once that happens, there will be nothing special about UD (its core curriculum and catholicity) and students will stop paying exorbitant rates to attend (after all, they can get race and gender orthodoxy somewhere else for less) and donors will see no need to fund it. Then UD, already in a financial hole, will fold. One more point. The older radicals were hardly such a soft bunch. Marxists and existentialists confronted their professors in class and were willing to debate the merits of their systems. I doubt any of the students in this piece have done so. Nor do I believe that the “N-word” was used in class or even among groups of white students. This is just racist stereotyping of whites. Every white person knows this would bring termination or expulsion. So the future of UD rests the on whether the president both believes in the mission of the college and has the fortitude to defend it. I’m not optimistic.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here