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
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.