Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, African American, Hispanic, middle-aged, empty nester, baby boomer, gothic, skater, prep. Whether or not you choose to catagorize yourself, campus diversity is important and necessary for higher education. Relating to people from other countries, religions and cultural backgrounds is one of the most rewarding learning experiences for students.
The Associated Press reported that the University of Texas has created a senior position to oversee and improve diversity in all aspects of campus life. The purpose of the position is to improve racial and ethnic harmony and make the university a more welcoming place for minorities. The Office of Institutional Diversity here at UTSA is also committed to developing and sustaining a diverse learning and working environment.
Diversity is a term that can be analyzed from many different angles. When people think of campus diversity they usually think of the ethnic make-up of the student body as a whole. In addition to ethnicity; religion, cultural background, age, and sexual orientation are also factors that make our campus a diverse learning environment. “One of the things that attracted me when I first saw the job at UTSA was that it was in San Antonio, which I associated immediately with, at least bicultural, if not multi-cultural,” said Elisa Foster, communication professor. She stressed that diversity is very important in the classroom. Her experiences in Australia provide her with a fresh perspective and different way of thinking, she said.
The composition of the student body is not predominantly Anglo-White, as it is at many other campuses across the nation. Instead, the Latino-Hispanic group seems to be the larger at UTSA. Other minority groups, such as African-Americans, Asians and Indians are represented on campus. The number of White students nearly equals the number of Hispanics.
Other groups, such as African Americans, are small in comparison. However, if you walk into the HSS building, you may disagree. Many African American students meet in the main hall of the building forming a cohesive and visible group. Communication major, Keysha Hogan, who is from the Dallas suburbs, said, “What happens at UTSA that does not happen in many other schools is that you can see and feel diversity regardless of statistical numbers.” She thinks UTSA feels like a small town school with a familiar environment.
Communication professor Carol Adam-Means, a native San Antonian, agrees that UTSA’s student body is a good representation of the community population, but there is room for improvement. “[UTSA] needs more faculty members of different groups such as African American, Asian and Hispanics,” said Means who identifies herself as a “mixture” of African Americans, Hispanics, White and Native Americans. Currently, she is teaching a class about multi-cultural reporting and writing. Age is also a factor that contributes to campus diversity. Not every college student fits into the 18-24 age bracket. Diversity in age groups represented on campus is another aspect of campus diversity worth considering. Often, older students provide a “new” perspective for younger students. Don Duran, who is 44 and will graduate next spring said, “I was often asked to share my life experiences, which always made me feel that I had contributed to our discussions.” As a result, the younger students gained Duran’s respect.
“I truly enjoy hearing the abundant opinions of my much younger classmates and comparing them with my own. It helps me be more open-minded,” he said.
Sexual orientation and religious beliefs are other characteristics that make individuals very different. Unfortunately, statistics are not provided to help gain a broader understanding of these individual differences. However, it is important to provide a space for interaction and exchange with people of different religious beliefs and sexual orientations.
The goal of campus diversity is to encourage everyone to keep on working to attract and welcome members of all ethnic groups and nationalities. Understanding is possible when we open our eyes and mind to new cultures, perspectives, and ideas. Only then can we successfully navigate the vast multi-cultural world of today.