Division and community: a professor’s perspective on racism at UD

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Gwendolyn Loop’s article “UD’s own struggle with race needs examination…” and the concerns it raises offer our community an important opportunity to look inward and address some uncomfortable issues that affect our campus. The students who spoke openly and painfully about their experiences must be heard and recognized. I hope that all of my colleagues read and reflect upon these experiences with compassion and resolve.

Sadly, the topic of racism on our campus should not be new to any member of the University of Dallas community (whether they be faculty, student, or staff). It is an issue that has been reported on before. 

It is an issue familiar to members of UD’s Student Success Committee, where it has spawned reflection and action in the form of diverse programming. Panel discussions on the problems of white supremacy and racism have modeled dialogue among speakers with diverse views. 

Moreover, the creation of smaller community spaces for cultural discussions has proved invaluable for fostering discussion about culture and current events. I and some of my colleagues prioritize the importance of race relations, racism, and colonialism in our curricula.

At a smaller (yet profoundly necessary) level, our offices have been spaces from which students privately share painful experiences. Yet none of this has sufficiently addressed the realities of our students and the present moment.

Our university is not immune to divisiveness. We shouldn’t downplay the very real conflicts that threaten national unity, and we should assume that these conflicts are manifest, in various forms, among us on campus. 

Faculty hold disparate views and often disagree with each other. Were students to inquire, they would find a range of faculty reactions to the issues presented in Ms. Loop’s article. For example, chants of “Build the wall” at TGIT elicit patriotism for some who may be ignorant of the cases in which this has also been shouted directly at students of color. Many of us recognize the inherent divisiveness of such language, however, and believe that patriotism need not be founded on xenophobic exclusion. 

These cases should raise in us a concern for our community as a whole and its wellbeing. 

Like all of my colleagues, I cherish free speech. I believe, however, that what can masquerade as a proud rejection of political correctness may be a pretext for directing intentionally harmful language at students of color. Whenever this happens at UD, our community is worsened and its values are threatened.

Whatever changes ultimately come will surely elicit great discussion and debate. But I hope there will be a moment of personal reckoning. 

In my now eight years as a professor here I sometimes wonder about how our love for UD and its unique character can, for some, manifest in a zealous attempt to safeguard a particular view of it at all costs. I am always cognizant of the importance of fostering students with intellectual curiosity, fierce independence, and a deep faith. Yet I feel that it is incumbent upon me to share my love for this institution by affirming its values, rather than painting an Other (whether that be another culture, institution, or academic trend) in broad and superficial strokes. 

We may disagree on what counts as diversity. Some may fear that calls for a more robust consideration of minority histories and cultures threaten the virtues of UD’s Western core. Yet the failure to adequately address the history of persons of color is a failure to fully understand the Western Tradition in all of its beautiful, complex, and painful dimensions. 

I hope all of us reflect on Joshua Nunn’s experience with our curriculum with an open mind and heart. I enthusiastically stand with my colleagues who defend our uniqueness and value–provided we are promoting our community with a spirit of compassion and inclusion and not imagining our neighbors to be barbarians at our gates.

I write in the spirit of service but also with a resolve to continue speaking on matters that are of consequence to our community. 

We are a great, unique, and valuable institution. We are especially great because of Gwendolyn, Natalie, Hannah, Gia, Guadalupe, Andrea, Jazmin, Joshua, An, Lauryn, Farai, and the students who reported anonymously for this story. We will be even greater when we draw on our own compassion, intellectual curiosity, and sense of community to more fully address their concerns.

José Espericueta, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Spanish at the University of Dallas.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Professor Espericueta, for the thoughtful and compassionate invitation to engage in an important discussion for our university. The first step of dialectic is to hear and understand what another has said. This is especially difficult when we experience what has been said as a challenge to our character. Ms. Villafranca quite accurately designated love of neighbor as one of the virtues we as a community ought to exercise; Ms. Loop gathered substantial testimony that we are not always doing so. Because this conversation is difficult, it must be had with care; even so, as you make plain in an admirable call to all of us–the faculty, as well–it must be had. It’s time for UD to expand its discussion of the dignity of human life to include the topic of racism.

  2. Thank you, Dr. Espericueta, for your thoughtful article and your timely call challenging us to be a more inclusive, welcoming community that embraces difference. I am especially proud of our students who have courageously and candidly spoken about their painful experiences and look forward to working with students and faculty to make our campus a place where diversity is celebrated and more open dialogue about racism and racialized practices is welcomed as part of our commitment to pursuing justice and truth.

  3. Thank you so much for your commentary! It’s really wonderful to hear professors write candidly about our campus. I especially appreciated the line about patriotism not needing xenophobic exclusion. American history is complicated, and it’s so important to seek a wholistic understanding. I hope to see you this fall!

  4. Thank you so much for furthering this conversation, Dr. Espericueta. I think for the average student, myself shamefully included, it’s very easy to fall into the cultural milieus of the majority, and feed off that energy that maybe with a more contemplative heart one might not have chosen to project; the repeated call to reflection in this piece is so integral if we want to make our campus a home away from home for all.

  5. Thank you so much for this article. It is heartening to hear UD professors engaging in the difficult conversation about the soul of UD and the cancer of racism and xenophobic exclusion that endangers our relationship to the Truth. What UD claims to do and at its best does, is foster true conversation. Not except, but especially when we acknowledge and correct painful challenges to our character. I look forward in hope to the faculty, administration, current students, and alumni engaging in good faith with the other in culture and thought – starting with the admirable compilation of testimonies. I am so grateful to the students who have shared, as well as to you for your service in amplifying their voices and furthering this much needed conversation.

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