For the third year in a row, Texas A&M was named one of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity, or HEED, Award winners, eliciting mixed reactions from students.
Awarded by the INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine in early October, this award recognizes American and Canadian universities making a clear commitment to diversity and inclusion. A&M will be one of only 101 institutions featured in the November 2021 issue. As a result of the recent protests concerning the controversial Lawrence Sullivan “Sully” Ross statue in A&M’s Academic Plaza, in addition to the general racial insensitivity surrounding A&M’s campus culture, some students question the validity of this award, while others believe it is deserved.
Psychology junior Dana Dang said A&M’s lack of response to anti-Sully protests makes students feel unheard and unimportant.
“I don’t want minority students to feel like they should just get over it,” Dang said. “It’s so ironic that they won’t take it down because it’s a tradition, but they’ll act as if [the protests] never happened, and other students will tell us to get over the past. [A&M doesn’t] care enough about their present day minority students because they think Old Ags will pull funding away because of what we do or us trying to sustain an image. A&M says they’re not racist, but it isn’t enough when they’re not proactively anti-racist.”
Though she appreciates the effort A&M has shown in advancing diversity, inclusion and representation, Dang said this does not negate the lack of acknowledgement and transparency concerning the explicitly racist parts of the university’s history.
“I wish they would be more upfront about it and display it on an open and wide-reaching media platform,” Dang said. “Sometimes the treatment of minorities feels performative even though I know there are genuine people that are fighting to get minority students the representation they deserve and are trying to get their voices heard and stories told.”
Despite not experiencing name-calling or other more obvious forms of racism, Dang said she has experienced microaggressions.
“I’ve had a girl literally tell me that her temporary and voluntary visit to Italy where she felt uncomfortable being asked if she was American was equal to the Asian American experience of being scrutinized for my cultural food in the United States, which I would call my permanent home and residence,” Dang said. “In the same class, another girl tried to justify the end of racism toward Asian Americans by saying that the west has finally popularized Asian food like building Panda Express.”
In her opinion, Megha Viswanath, Class of 2021, said A&M has not done enough to deserve this award due to the ill treatment she and other minority students have experienced.
“As someone who has been involved in student government, there is a lot of bureaucratic diversity occurring that A&M prides itself on, which frankly doesn’t actually advance or tangibly change anything,” Viswanath said. “It’s simply for the PR. There are individuals within the community — students, teachers and staff — that work very hard to make getting an education and future as accessible, inclusive and respectful as possible. And unfortunately, a lot of their work and requests are either silenced, go unfunded or are not taken seriously.”
Viswanath said she hasn’t seen A&M do much more than create positive social media posts.
“Slapping the word ‘diversity’ across programs without actually tailoring those programs to what students and faculty need, I don’t think [A&M] is in a place to be awarded as a leader in [diversity, equity and inclusion],’’ Viswanath said. “Actions speak louder than words, and [A&M] has yet to create a place where all Aggies truly belong.”
Among those who think A&M deserves the award, university studies senior Clayton Collier said it is important to recognize the efforts the school has made to advance inclusion on campus.
“I think A&M has done quite a bit in the past span of months of advancing its grasp on diversity,” Collier said. “I think that most of the student body has felt included in most aspects of being here. It’s a place that puts pride in its message of being the 12th Man, and systems like the Aggie Foundation have helped other fellow Aggies in need and have made this place such a unique experience.”
Collier said the university can only encourage diversity to a certain extent — it’s up to individual students to treat their peers fairly.
“Are there those who feel they have been excluded from the rest?” Collier said. “Absolutely. But it is our task as fellow Aggies to find ways to help those out who feel that way and find new avenues to make solutions to fix these issues as a result.”