Diversity suffers under white-washed faculty, western-inspired classes

Read article here: http://wp.me/p6M9R2-bOc (Illustration by Megan James)
illustration by Megan James
Illustration by Megan James

Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the most diverse universities I know. In the center of urban downtown Richmond, it prides itself on “meet[ing] the demands of diverse populations through impactful research, rigorous study and extensive community engagement.” And it does. VCU is extremely engaged with the community of Richmond, especially with the most recent UCI Bike Race. VCU’s vision statement declares “the global engagement of students, faculty and staff that transforms lives and communities.” Yet somehow they miss the mark within their institution.

VCU’s mission statement declares: As the premier urban, public research university in Virginia, VCU’s mission is to advance knowledge and student success through its commitments to diversity in hopes of providing a climate of inclusion, a dedication to addressing disparities wherever they exist and an opportunity to explore and create in an environment of trust.

Well I see some inconsistencies here and hope there is an opportunity to explore them in order to create an environment all minority students can trust. Richmond itself is not a very diverse city; 44.7 percent white and 49.7 percent black, according to the United States Census Bureau for 2014. However, VCU does not match those statistics in its students, faculty and course offerings.

Here are a few stats based off of VCU’s fact card. VCU student population, on campus, looks like one of the most diverse places I’ve ever experienced. On paper, it looks a little different. Altogether, minority races compose just under half of the VCU population at 49 percent. That includes the categories of international, 2 or more races and not reported. The white demographic lies at 51 percent.

Now, it maybe obvious to some that the faculty is not so fortunate in its diversity. For instructional faculty, African American numbers lie at 4.71 percent; Asian, 12.97 percent; Hispanic, 2.56 percent; and whites, 74.16 percent. Within administrative faculty, 13.24 percent are African American, 2.67 percent Asian, 1.5 percent Hispanic and 79.6 percent white. Altogether, minority faculty equals way less than 50 percent: 20.24 percent in all. There is an extreme lack of diverse faculty to meet the seemingly diverse student population.

Finally, let’s look at the courses offered by VCU. As in most institutions, we are blessed with an African American studies program. However, there is no Asian studies, Hispanic studies or a real international studies program where our options aren’t one class on Islamic mysticism, zen Buddhism, or global and regional ethics and religion from European perspectives.

I even got excited when I came across foreign studies under the registration courses for fall 2015. “Ok, this seems interesting, I wonder what they’ll offer in here,” I thought.

Click — Euro-Mediterranean Mythology. What is that? The course description says — nada. Well it’s obviously European history, nothing foreign about that. America and Europe know each other well — consider colonization. These perspectives are familiar to us.

This list comprises one class, not an entire program or discipline. I’m sure American-born Asians or Hispanics would benefit from getting to know more about their culture or history outside of what’s been told to them at home. As an African American I know all too well that the things my family discusses does not encompass the depth of information I have learned from my three AFAM courses.

The university has a ton of Western and European courses that discuss the same novels, poems and textbook history. Not everyone necessarily wants to continue learning the same content they’ve been analyzing since high school. If I plan to have an international view of the world, I should know real international history, not just the American version of it.

Compared to other universities whose mission statement doesn’t derive from diversity, the content of our international studies courses is below par. George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers Latin American, Middle East and Islamic, and Russian and Eurasian studies. George Washington University offers Asian, Italian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Russian, Judaic, French and German studies.

I appreciate the impact VCU has had on the Richmond community with its involvement in the surrounding neighborhoods and its leading Medical Center. But an institution that prides itself on international diversity and involvement should showcase that inside and out. It starts with our teachers from all backgrounds, allowing them access to courses that teach international history current and past. If we want to talk about #AllLivesMatter, then let’s include them and educate them.


Opinion Editor, Monica Houston

_MG_8104 (2)Monica is a transfer student from Norfolk State University studying English. Her dog, Furby, is an in-office celebrity and frequently attends production and meetings with Monica.

houstonm@commonwealthtimes.org

8 Comments

  1. I of course agree that the school would do well to offer more (and more fleshed out) international programs. However, I think your lumping together a lot of different walks of life and just calling it "white" for the sake of dismissal does a great disservice.

    Just because America was colonized by Europe 400 years ago… that doesn't mean we just magically know European traditions reaching back for centuries. It's not out of line to learn about, say, Scandinavian or Romanian or (enter location that would be found in that Euro-Mediterranean class) just because there isn't a class about Natsume Soseki and other Meiji novelists currently on offer. The move to make is to add new areas of study, not complain about things that are already there. All knowledge is precious. Grow, don't prune.

    The other issue I noticed was your tendency to equate color with perspective. Your focus is on diversity of ethnicity when in fact all that matters when it comes to faculty is diversity of mind. A poor white boy in 1950s Missouri who didn't even have plumbing in his house but worked hard and became a lawyer in D.C. is going to have very different notions about the world than someone like Pat Schneeweis. To lump them together as white doesn't mean anything at all. They don't share the same experience, world view, political alignment, or anything of any substance beyond humanity. And to advocate specifically taking one out in order to arbitrarily replace them with someone of color is absurd.

    Don't get me wrong. Diversity is key. And physical diversity is a really simple way to ensure diversity of mind because people of different genders and races have different experiences and sometimes are steeped in different cultures. But unless you suspect the VCU administration of racist hiring practices, it needs to come down to simply hiring the most qualified candidate for any given job. When that's being done, you're not going to see nice and pretty numbers like every 10% of staff being a different demographic.

  2. I am a student in the Euro-Mediterranean Mythology course that you have mentioned, and I find it quite unprofessional that you decided that the lack of a course description on a topics class on the registration portion of our website was cause for you to sufficiently judge its content. I am especially quite shocked at this piece if you attend VCU, where course descriptions for topics classes I have taken have always been omitted from the registration portion of the website and left for definition within the syllabus. Since I am in this class, I will share with you the very first piece of our course description "In this course, we will focus on some of those myths as rendered in Ancient Literature and as analyzed according to a variety of ancient and modern interpretations".

    Maybe if you had taken the time to actually contact our Professor or delve deeper than the "research" you did amounting to a few mouse clicks you could've uncovered this information. Not only is this content new to many in our class, but its influence and the analyses which we have considered extend well beyond Europe. Additionally, there has been a course offered known as Music & Religion, which also explores a myriad of cultures with a great professor. If you chose to not participate in such courses to develop a genuine understanding and knowledge of international world, then that strikes me as your problem.

    • You deleted much of my original comment. Please delete my comment as you totally changed the entirety of my message. That is very poor in terms of professionalism. It’s odd because you left it alone for quite a long while.

      • I replied to the wrong section; my previous comment was supposed to be a follow-up to my first post… sorry to the person above me.

        You didn’t just chop off the last section, you edited parts you left in. What kind of staff is this?

  3. It is obvious to me that: (1) you are not familiar with, nor have read, Ovid's Metamorphoses, (2) Have no clue what and who the Mediterranean culture includes, and (3) have never attended our class, which would enable you to see first hand the diversity of the students taking it. Your mind is also no match to the mind of our brilliant professor, Dr. Bernardo Piciche'. I am an International Studies student who has been exposed to all corners of the earth in my classes, and it is ignorant people such as yourself who try to stir up trouble to draw attention to themselves that really piss me off.

    • In the original version of my first post (which has been heavily edited by the staff), I suggested to them that the “Mediterranean” part had to include parts of Africa or it would just be called European Mythology. It’s a common sense thing, really.

  4. Clearly the author has never taken statistics. If you want to compare two populations with vastly different sizes you need to do a goodness to fit test. I think you will find that African-Americans are not as under represented as you think they are. They are almost as equal to white representation. It’s Hispanics who are vastly under represented, and Asians who are vastly over.

    I mean this is provided that you want to do the racist and idiotic thing judge professionals based on skin color and not the merit of their ability.

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