Texas A&M recently unveiled a report from its commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The report's findings led the Board of Regents to implement eight actions aiming to tackle racial injustice on campus. Some of those changes include increasing the number of scholarship recipients and creating a task force to “accurately and fully tell the story of Texas A&M’s history through displays and iconography.” The university’s new policies were quite impressive, and it even came with a shiny price tag of just under $25 million. For a second, it appeared A&M was honestly trying to improve the lives of underrepresented students on campus. However, all the excitement came to a halt at the news that the Lawrence Sullivan “Sully” Ross statue was to stay in Academic Plaza. I believe this decision is at odds with any efforts made to improve diversity on campus.
I realize people may ask, "A&M is investing all this money into diversity on campus, so why can't you let this one thing go?" I understand the sentiment behind this train of thought. It seems no matter what A&M does, people will always find a reason to complain. However, Ross's statue plays such a heavy role on campus climate, and the decision to keep it in place proves A&M isn't as invested in promoting diversity as it claims.
Removing monuments with racist/confederate histories may appear distracting from the real work of dismantling systemic racism itself. However, symbolic actions matter just as much as any other structural effort. The two go hand-in-hand rather than one being a replacement of the other. The symbolic removal of white supremacist figures sets a standard for the type of climate and foundation an institution wants to create and validates those who feel unseen and unheard.
The report also acknowledges the inevitable cycle of current students becoming future donors, and it would be in A&M's best interest to act sooner rather than later. This level of self-awareness is what makes the decision to keep the statue baffling. In the section titled "Donor Funding," the reports states this of the people looking to keep the statue: "Much of the dissent is from a small number of people who are spreading rumors and tend to be overly vocal about their opinions." It feels like a slap in the face that a small group of individuals is impeding decisions that will benefit the university's image. Even more surprising is the report acknowledges long-term funding will not be significantly affected if the university went through with its plan to commit to change on campus. Instead, students were excluded in the decision-making as university officials shut down all further discussions of moving the statue.
As a matter of fact, university officials had no plans to move the statue at all. The commission for diversity studying the issue for the past three months never considered removing the statue according to Interim University President John Junkins. How does a school have a diversity commission and not discuss removing a former Confederate general’s statue? Irony is dead, and A&M killed it.
Furthermore, the report states A&M "is one of the worst-performing schools" in regard to the percentage of Black and Latinx undergraduate students compared to its state's population. In 2019, the percentage of Black undergraduate students was an outstandingly low 3.32 percent. We all could probably have figured that out by just stepping on campus, but seeing such a low percentage took me off guard. To put it in perspective how disappointing this percentage is, the number of Black and African Americans at A&M in 1999 was 2.6 percent. The policies the university aims to implement will probably boost the embarrassingly low percentage, and maybe we even get to a whopping 5 percent. Nevertheless, the issues A&M is facing right now go more in-depth than financial compensations.
Keeping the statue of a white supremacist at the heart of campus while also increasing funding to promote diversity has an uncomfortable feeling of bribery to it. It is as if A&M is paying marginalized students to ignore the ties to white supremacy now that they have thrown money at the problem.
For A&M to increase diversity, it must make its marginalized students feel welcome and safe. Creating a habitable environment won’t magically happen because there’s now an increase in scholarship funding. I appreciate A&M at least taking a step toward the problem of racial injustice, but those scholarships will collect dust if the students they are aimed for don't feel comfortable enough to study here in the first place.
Ozioma Mgbahurike is an electrical engineering sophomore and opinion writer for The Battalion.