Students bear down on bigotry
Lately, the word “diversity” is stamped on every milestone and marker nationwide. It’s buzzing off the lips of every politician and administrator. It’s trendy.
But the term has largely become hollow, a token quota to be filled.
Yes, it’s very important that we attract and retain a diverse population, and the UA has taken steps toward achieving this goal. Our school has committed itself to reaching all kinds of students. Access and inclusion are huge goals of Never Settle, and there’s some payoff: For at least the past 13 years, there’s been a steady increase in minority enrollment. Last semester, out of 31,670 undergraduate students, 39.1 percent were minority students.
But we can’t focus too much on statistics, even if they do portend positive things. Diversity is more than a percentage to be met; it’s a qualitative measurement. Numbers won’t tell you what the atmosphere of a campus is like, whether that 39.1 percent feels they’ve gotten the most out of their education. You have to put on your stomping boots and go ask around — so we did.
We asked students to write on our whiteboard a “microaggression”: an aggravating comment they’ve heard or an uncomfortable situation they’ve experienced on campus because of their race, gender, sexuality, religion or some other defining feature. Then, we took their pictures.
It was a simple exercise inspired by similar work on other campuses like Oxford University and Harvard University, as well as on our own campus. Cultural centers such as Native American Student Affairs, the Women’s Resource Center and LGBTQ Affairs have already taken the initiative to record some of the UA’s most commonly heard microaggressions, as well as reaffirming responses to them.
In 2011, the UA did another kind of analysis: an Undergraduate Campus Climate Survey. More than three-quarters of students felt that we have a diverse student population and a climate that fosters it, and when asked to describe their undergraduate experience, 35 out of 2,002 students indicated that they felt “alienated or underrepresented based on some aspect of identity.”
As we walked around with our whiteboard, we saw both sides of this spectrum. Some students insisted they’d never had a bad experience, others had too many to relate in such a brief encounter. But frequently we were told that, though microaggressions had been encountered, they were quickly forgotten, repressed as just part of the everyday experience of life on campus.
Our campus should not be a place where oppression is average. We’d like to do something about that. Right now, we’re just beginning our work on microaggressions. It’s an endeavour we hope to explore, with the student body’s help, for issues to come. Much like our university, we’ll never settle.
You can see our full color gallery online and submit your own photos to email@example.com.