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Friday, April 20, 2018

Opinion

Staff editorial: Ripping off the diversity bumper sticker


The University of Houston boasts diversity but is doing little to show appreciation for it. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

The University of Houston is the second most diverse university in the country. We’ve all heard it before.

What we have not sensed is the University caring about its diversity, which is not a product of any superior recruitment or clever marketing to minorities. It is the product of UH belonging to Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the country.

According to UH’s Office of Institutional Research, 77.9 percent of students here live in the greater Houston area.

You cannot tout diversity if you do not acknowledge, support and nurture its presence and your appreciation of it. That goes further than saying “thank you” and offering foreign language courses.

Ethnic groups from around the world are represented on campus.

You have the black diaspora with Black Student Union, African Student Union and Caribbean Student Organization. From South America, you have Mexican American Studies Student Organization and Venezuelan Student Union. For Asia, there’s the Vietnamese Students Association and the Indian Students Association. Of course, the largest student organization on campus is the Muslim Students Association.

How many of these organizations have you heard of before?

Just because we have diversity does not mean that we make our diverse population feel important. This multiculturalism is not just a check mark on a list of aspects that make us desirable to prospective students. When you celebrate the University for being diverse and not the students who make it so, your claim to excellence is null and void.

This isn’t just about people of color, either. Diversity happens when students of various national origins, ethnic and gender identities, sexualities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and more take classes together.

Some aspects of diversity are well appreciated on campus. The Women and Gender Resource Center and its neighbor, the LGBTQ Resource Center, help marginalized students feel welcome and understood through events like the Vagina Monologues and Take Back the Night.

Other organizations and departments that cater to minorities also do good work, but they are not as visible to less-involved students. The recently-created Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosts an annual event called Culture Connect Week that features programs designed to bring students of wildly different backgrounds together and share and engage in their stories.

The Council for Cultural Activities, formerly known as the Council of Ethnic Organizations, hosts similar events, such as the upcoming Cultural Taste of Houston.

While these efforts are needed and engaging, more can be done.

Having a seat at the table is not indicative of acceptance, nor is it an adequate considering the city we live in and the school we attend. We are not celebrating diverse students enough for how much they give us.

One solution would be to expand Culture Connect Week and host an international heritage month. Each week could be dedicated to a continent or region to showcase where the students come from. Activities like music, dance, art, movies, language and, of course, food would give the entire student body a deeper understanding of the different cultures that surround them.

Simply celebrating is enough to make people feel important. The sentiment of inclusion becomes even more genuine as international students and others celebrate the best way they know how: in the ways of their own cultures.

The act of solidarity will benefit both the University and the students in the long run.  

This is not solely the job of the faculty, administration or even Renu Khator. It starts with other students. Particularly those in registered and fee-funded student organizations, and especially the reporters and editors at this newspaper.

We must support our diverse cast of on-campus organizations beyond just attending their events. For inclusion to happen, we must form supportive relationships with solidarity and give under-supported groups a feeling of visibility.

The University should also consider allocating more funds to the Activities Funding Board, which gives money to registered student organizations who ask for it. If AFB has funds left over, the committee should make it rain on these ethnic organizations.  

We cannot take for granted the diversity we have been given. Diversity is neither a slogan nor a bumper sticker.

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