A Conversation on Diversity

A Conversation on Diversity

Brisa Ramirez

This summer, Southwestern Adventist University formed a standing committee to strengthen the current initiatives and needs of the university in the area of diversity. SWAU is the sixth most diverse college in Texas according to Niche 2021 rankings and is designated as a Hispanic serving institution, with 45 percent of its student body identifying as Hispanic or of Latin descent. 

On Thursday, Nov. 5, the university held a special assembly entitled, “Discussion on Diversity, Unity and Our Campus.” Ahead of the program, students responded to a survey about diversity on campus, sharing questions they wanted the panel to answer during this assembly.

Ana Patterson, special assistant to the SWAU president, introduced the topic of diversity by sharing a bit of her perspective and background, as well as student body demographics. At SWAU, 6.2 percent of students are Asian, 13.1 percent are Black or African American, 45.3 percent are Hispanic, 0.8 percent are Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and 25.8 percent are white.

“Maybe some of you have heard of the melting pot analogy,” shared Patterson during her introduction. “The melting pot basically says that you come to the United States and we are all in this big melting pot and we all become one cohesive thing that is all melted together. My dad always told me when I was growing up that we shouldn’t look at American multiculturalism as a melting pot, but that a better analogy would be a salad bowl. Each thing can still keep its identity while making the whole better.”

Patterson then introduced the panel, which featured Zoya Thompson, 2020 class president; Jonathan Aguiñaga, 2020-2021 student association president; Buster Swoopes, professor for the Department of Religion; Alondra Zavala, enrollment counselor and Dr. Ken Shaw, president of the university. Michael Gibson, SWAU alum and adjunct professor for the Department of Religion, served as the panel’s moderator.

Gibson led a thoughtful conversation where panelists shared a bit about their own background, the racism that has been directed toward them and the different ways they have learned to listen to people from other backgrounds.

Thompson shared about the exhaustion of advocating for herself and others by pointing out when jokes are offensive. “As a person of color, you don’t want to be the person all the time saying, ‘that’s offensive.’ If you are a friend to me, you should know to speak up for me. Even though you may not identify as someone who is Black or someone who is Hispanic, you can use your voice to say, ‘That’s not funny. That’s offensive.’”

Swoopes, who serves as a member of the diversity committee, encouraged students who notice a lack of representation for any ethnic group to speak out. “If you see someone or a group or a people that is misrepresented or is underrepresented, please allow the Holy Spirit to use you to speak up and speak out. Give us ideas so we can make sure that everyone is represented here and that their voice is heard, because we don’t want any voice to go unheard.”

Dr. Shaw also encouraged students who have ideas to approach a SWAU faculty or staff member or Aguiñaga, as their Student Association president. He shared that the intention is for the campus to continue to be a positive environment in addition to a place where students receive a quality education.

The diversity committee is serving as a place for students to go when they have suggestions about how to be more inclusive on campus, and the committee is making recommendations of ways to ensure that the diversity in the student body is represented in all aspects of SWAU life. While plans are in their early stages, it is clear this committee is dedicated to making a difference on the SWAU campus.

Watch the full “Discussion on Diversity, Unity and Our Campus” here.

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