Alexander: U Majors Exclude BIPOC Perspectives

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Amen Koutowogbe

Canvas print of some students in a lab at the Warnock Engineering Building at the University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City, Utah on July 5, 2022. (Photo by Amen Koutowogbe | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Opinion Editor

 

There’s a serious issue with University of Utah departments excluding students of color by failing to include BIPOC perspectives. In her article, “Torres: The U’s School of Computing Alienates Students of Intersecting Marginalized Identities,” Chronicle Writer Gaby Torres covered the exclusion of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people in the U’s School of Computing, but let’s face it: this exclusion isn’t limited to one college — we see it across campus.

Not only are a majority of students here white, but 88.4% of faculty are too, according to College Factual. When people of color are missing from our classrooms, they’re missing from our curriculum. I’ve heard students complain about all-white syllabi and listened to professors justify their exclusion of diverse perspectives. I’m tired of it — just like every other student of color at this institution.

Asian-American student Samuel Judd-Kim told me that he does not always feel welcome in the U’s philosophy program. He described the department as “overall very white, very male.” He confided that he almost dropped the major because of the discouraging lack of representation.

“Among the history of philosophy classes, there’s pretty much zero BIPOC representation … all of that history, just by virtue of how it’s been compiled, is white and male,” Judd-Kim said.

Sociology student Anjali Valentine, who is South-Asian Indian and transferred to the U from UCLA, explained that her department “felt overwhelmingly white.” She was once asked to participate in a classroom panel discussing the book “Just Mercy.”

“I remember they wouldn’t stop using the word colored to describe non-white people, and it really upset me … I was like ‘I’m transferring schools,’ … I can’t do this shit anymore,” Valentine said.

When Valentine raised these concerns, people told her to go back to UCLA.

“It’s just like, ‘we don’t care to make this space better so you should just go back to the one you came from,'” she said.

The exclusion of BIPOC perspectives tokenizes the few students of color present on campus. Haydee Pena Gamez, a Mexican-American geography student, explained over email that in her classes, “there is always a sense of ‘otherness.’” She’s one of very few students of color in the entire geography department. Despite professors being welcoming of different opinions, they only ask her for such opinions. Then, “there are, of course, the random ignorant students that say multiple racist [things] or microaggressions that leave me crying out of frustration,” she said.

Unfortunately, racism doesn’t escape professors of color, either. Valentine described a professor of color who continuously put up with outrageous remarks from students. She commended the professor for being patient, but still questioned, “what’s gotten you to stay so long?”

Judd-Kim expressed similar concerns for students, explaining that students and philosophers of color feel a responsibility to stay in the field to diversify philosophy.

“Do you stay in the field and try to make it better for the future generations of philosophers?” Judd-Kim said. “And at what point do you say … ‘This is not a field that’s going to be welcoming to me in my career?’”

One South-Asian Indian biology student, who wished to remain anonymous, detailed how exhausting it is trying to diversify one’s field.

“I’ve always felt like I have to carry the diversity on my own shoulders, like I’m the one that’s being the change,” they said.

The student explained that while they’re grateful to be part of the program they were historically excluded from, sometimes it’s a burden.

“The push for diversity comes at the expense of diverse students,” they said.

As these students can attest, excluding BIPOC perspectives neglects the U’s students of color. Lack of representation makes it harder for us to connect to our majors and disciplines, and as Judd-Kim and Valentine expressed, it results in feelings of discouragement. And if students of color lose motivation to continue in their departments, that will only further major exclusivity and limit accessibility to future generations of BIPOC students.

Fortunately, we’re not alone in fighting for diverse perspectives at the U. The School for Cultural and Social Transformation works to improve inclusivity through hiring in partnership with departments across campus. Dr. Edmund Fong, Transform’s chair of ethnic studies, explained that their hires provide “education and curriculum syllabi on BIPOC perspectives that are well informed, centrally informed and not just something tacked on as we’ve often seen with certain more traditional departments.”

Transform also offers certificate programs providing students with culturally sensitive and appropriate education on specific communities, transformative justice and EDI work, which will help students lead future EDI efforts beyond the U. However Fong did specify “it’s an uphill battle” but the school is trying to do their part.

If the U administration cares about inclusivity, then we should see more than our current performative initiatives. The drive for diversity shouldn’t be left to Transform and BIPOC only — all U faculty and students should work towards promoting BIPOC perspectives within their own departments.

 

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@CamdenAlexande1