In June, I wrote an article describing the frustrations and concerns of several students of color at the University of Dallas, many of whom spoke out against harmful or exclusionary treatment which they had faced during their time at UD.
Although several racially charged incidents like the slavery essay petition and the wall costume have already been covered by The University News, I am attempting to comprehend the progress that has been made this semester, as well as seeing the many areas where work is still deeply needed.
Senior Guadalupe Torres, president of UD’s “Jolt” chapter for young Hispanic political participation in Texas, wrote in a text, “I think we’re taking steps forward in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
Torres expressed frustration at some resistance within the UD community in listening to negative experiences of students of color. “There appears to be a lot of opposition from others towards the students who are speaking out. They dismiss their experience or complaints and mock them, which is upsetting.”
Although the reception was mainly positive for my June article, some people accused my student sources of lying. A few people also accused me of pushing a radical agenda, of going against UD’s values in my claim that racism exists and is a problem at UD. Some individuals in our community continue to deny that many people of color face unique challenges.
Dr. William Cody, associate professor and chair of the biology department, addressed this issue in an email interview.
“I have seen more discussion about race and discrimination on campus this fall than I have in the past, which is encouraging,” he wrote. “We still have some on campus that are unaware of the concerns students have expressed, or are unable to acknowledge them. We need to make sure student voices are heard and their experiences acknowledged.”
Dr. Jose Espericueta, associate professor of Spanish, saw a lack of “listening” as a major factor in this disconnect.
“I’ve been led to assume that for some people, addressing racism or supporting people of color somehow opens the floodgates to radical or even ‘socialist’ thinking—although it’s never clear to me what that means exactly and I imagine these views suffer from an unfortunate failure to truly listen to concerned members of our community,” he wrote in an email interview.
While denial of racial issues might stem from unmalicious ignorance in some cases, that lack of awareness or thoughtfulness demonstrates the need for further conversation and action.
Sophomore Taylor Tran, president of UD’s Asian-American Students Association, felt that some changes have occurred among students, but that the administration has not sufficiently addressed student concerns and tensions about race-related issues.
“We want to know that UD has our backs, and that they are willing to support us in our fight to be an equally valued part of campus,” she wrote in a text. “The support of our own university should have been the first and easiest step, but right now it feels like we are hopelessly appealing to something that does not care about us whatsoever.”
I have seen few solutions this semester, but I believe that we will see at least a few more changes next semester.
For example, Dr. Daniel Burns, associate professor of politics and interim associate dean of Constantin College, and Dr. John Norris, associate professor of theology and associate provost, recently formed a subcommittee of the Committee on Student Success which will become active next semester.
This subcommittee will primarily, though not exclusively, focus on race, and will “launch a series of events and programming on campus that would relate to themes of diversity and equity,” according to Burns in a phone interview.
This subcommittee demonstrates the administration’s acknowledgment of race as a potential obstacle for student success, and will hopefully prove to be a valuable part of the solution at UD.
The subcommittee sees great importance in facilitating events for other UD offices and departments. “We want to encourage other people to get together programming from as wide a range of points of view as we have on this campus,” Burns said.
“Frankly, I think that I can speak for all of us- we all think that ‘more talking’ is better than ‘less talking,’” Burns continued. “We’d like to encourage the right kind of conversations happening on our campus.”
Burns also said that in the past, UD has not sufficiently informed students of the processes to share concerns or complaints. “I think that everyone I’ve ever talked to in the administration takes student voices and thoughts very seriously and wants to listen to them,” he said. “But I’ve also heard students say, ‘I just don’t know where I’m supposed to go, I don’t know who I could speak to.’ So I do think that’s something that we as a campus need to do a better job of, making sure students know where to go.”
Burns and Dr. David Andrews are currently deliberating about how to make those processes more widely known. If students have ideas about the best ways to share this information, Burns advises speaking to their academic advisor or dean.
As Burns emphasized the importance of communication, Tran similarly was hopeful about the increase in conversation about race at UD. She cited the Student Government survey, the “POC_at_UD” Instagram page for accounts of discrimination and the general rise in confidence for students to speak out.
“Students of color are no longer afraid of calling out the administration or other students for discriminatory behaviors or deliberate ignorance,” Tran wrote. “They’ve realized that they no longer have to suffer in silence, and their experiences are being validated by others who are going through the same.”
“The [new] ambiance of solidarity and courage among students of color … [gives] me hope that we are on the right track to facilitating actual and meaningful changes,” she wrote.
Senior Natalie Villafranca expressed some cautious optimism for next semester. Along with a group of other students, the School of Ministry, faculty members and a few club presidents, she is helping to plan a student-led event on racial issues.
Villafranca emphasized the importance of action, moving beyond UD’s customary affinity for conversation. Over the summer, she helped to create the Diversity Inclusion Survey and to present three main goals for the administration.
The student survey organizers asked for a diversity officer, more nonwhite Western authors to be added to the Core and more resources on the school website like anti-racism readings.
Although many of these requests have not yet been fulfilled, the administration recently formed a “Civil Rights Pool” which will draw from a group of trained faculty members to address specific situations and concerns.
Cody is a member of the Civil Rights Pool, and wrote, “I hope I can play a role in ensuring students have several resources available to assist in resolving their concerns and that their voices are heard. I hope the Civil Rights Office can provide support to students that encounter discrimination and assist in starting a genuine dialogue with those that don’t acknowledge … their experiences.”
While they see the benefits of the Civil Rights Pool, Cody and Espericueta, who is also a member of the Civil Rights Pool, hope for further initiatives in the future, especially based on fundamental principles of UD.
“Support events on campus that address these issues, and ask clubs and organizations on campus to sponsor and co-sponsor more events,” Cody wrote. “We all have something important to add to [the] conversation and will be a stronger community for it.”
Cody hopes for faculty and student-led events discussing race from the perspectives of “truth, justice, what our faith requires of us, and human dignity,” topics that are already familiar at UD but often do not include an emphasis on race.
Similarly, Espericueta wrote, “I hope to see formal, intellectual discussions about racism and diversity that draw on Catholic teaching and contemporary scholarship on race.”
“I think that our identity as a Catholic, Liberal Arts university positions us particularly well to address racism and to clearly identify it and speak out against it when and where we see it … The important relationship between our human dignity and fundamental equality, as is so beautifully articulated by Saint John Paul II and the Catholic Catechism, reminds us to seek to preserve and respect the dignity of those in our community and beyond,” Espericueta continued. “We all have a role when it comes to reflecting on the dignity of the other and it starts in our own community, which strives towards wisdom, truth, and virtue.”
I am encouraged by the search for greater discussion and action against racial discrimination, particularly with student solidarity and administration encouraging some conversation. At the same time, I must emphasize the importance of momentum to bond the community together in understanding and compassion.
Many of my sources expressed hope that the “Student Leaders for Racial Justice” club would be passed on Nov. 9, and I have already witnessed tension and genuine sorrow over the decision to continue to table the club. Although I understand concerns about language choice, we do need some sort of student club to foster diversity and unity for racial issues. We urgently need discussion and action, not just within friend groups or social media, but in a more official and accessible way for all students.
At this point, I think the most discouraging thing would be to “slap a band-aid” on the issue of race relations and carry on as we have in the past. We must recognize the real suffering of current and past students, and work to prevent future students from undergoing the same trials due to their race.
“I see a lot of energy from our students when it comes to addressing concerns about the campus climate,” Espericueta wrote. “I’m motivated by their love for UD and desire to see it be an institution that is welcoming to all in the community.”