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.”