MATT DEL BUSTO & JOZ CABRERA | STAFF REPORTERS
Diversity is a continuously evolving word. Whether it is used in regards to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, ability or any other myriad of categories, diversity is a hot topic on college campuses across the nation.
Butler is no different.
Recently, Bust the B.U.B.B.L.E., a black student group, and TRANSform, a transgender student group, each released a list of demands. These demands are their respective groups’ efforts for equitable treatment on campus.
How is diversity defined?
Levester “LJ” Johnson, vice president for student affairs, has worked at Butler for 24 years. He said he has seen the evolution.
“The university has not fully defined it. For me personally, it’s an entity that includes all types of backgrounds, races and ethnicities,” Johnson said. “It includes modes of thinking and thought. It’s a lot of different things. The interesting thing about diversity these days is that the definition is ever-changing.”
A Diverse Perspective
Derrick Rogan is a committee member on the Student Government Association’s Diversity Education & Advocacy Committee. Rogan, senior organizational communication and leadership major, said he feels diversity changed a lot in his four years.
Rogan said as an African-American student there have been numerous times where he felt marginalized, both in and out of class. He said he had experiences where his skin color was detrimental to his grade.
“It’s difficult consistently to be the only person who looks like you,” Rogan said. “It’s something that you learn how to deal with, but my biggest thing in the classroom is that as a student of color, the spotlight is always on me. My absences are always noticed more, my lack of participation is always noticed more, how I conduct myself, how I dress is noticed more because you can spot me out of a crowd of students.
“Professors have said, ‘Oh, Derrick, well you’re consistently absent in my course,’ and these are professors who may or may not have an attendance policy. It’s one of those situations where you remember my absence more than other students because if you look around you can say, ‘Oh, the one black kid’s not in class today.’”
He said he saw stereotypes manifest themselves in other ways. In the dining hall, people questioned whether or not he is a student. People asked him what position he plays, assuming he’s on the basketball team.
At the same time, Rogan said there is a flip side to sticking out.
As someone who is often the only student of color in class, Rogan said it allows him to be a teacher of sorts. When an issue comes up pertaining students of color, he is the “expert.” Rogan said he enjoys educating the class and professors.
Cristina McNeiley, junior combined sociology and criminology major, is the current director of diversity and inclusion for SGA and will continue next school year.
She said she wanted to go to a diverse university due to the lack of diversity within her hometown.
“I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the most diverse campus,” McNeiley said. “But I made it a mission of mine to make sure that diversity started to increase within the four years I was going to attend Butler.”
Recently, Rogan said the attention and focus on diversity was magnified on campus. He said diversity is important because if everyone thinks and looks the same, learning will not take place.
McNeiley said people are diverse in many different ways, but many people do not realize the diversity within themselves.
“I just always wanted people to see that everyone is diverse in their own aspect and to appreciate and accept diversity from each other,” she said.
Johnson said he feels he can sympathize and understand the concerns because he represents the underrepresented.
“I can draw from personal experience from my undergraduate days as a student at Marquette University and what it was like navigating the environment during that time frame and knowing and understanding some of the issues that some of our students therefore deal with and I have felt,” he said. “I have a true understanding of what individuals, what other backgrounds, what my background bring to a campus community. I am very vested in that, not just as a practitioner, but a practitioner of color,”
Normando Gonzalez, a junior actuarial science and Spanish major and president of Latinos Unidos, represents Latino students.
The Hispanic population were 3.7 percent of the entire student body in 2015, According to Butler’s Institutional Data Profile.
“As soon as I heard of it, I wanted to join,” he said. “It is important for me to embrace my ‘difference’ ’here. I am proud to be Latino. It’s something that made me proud and something that I thought I could other people that were in my situation with, to embrace a certain part of themselves.”
What has changed?
McNeiley said she saw diversity treated as a major concern within the last year.
“People still say there is [a lack of diversity,]” she said. “Seeing what has happened over the last three years, I can honestly say that diversity is becoming a bigger issue and that diversity is a lot more noticeable on campus than it was my first year or prior to even coming here.”
Additionally, McNeiley said she sees students interacting with each other a lot more across boundaries.
“It’s not just white individuals stick with white individuals and LGBT individuals stick with LGBT individuals,” she said. “It’s like everybody is mixing and mingling a lot more and learning a lot more about each other which is great.”
The Diversity Commission gives recommendations on things the university can do involving diversity in enrollment, faculty goals and curriculum.
“I think the Diversity Commission is the most obvious entity that’s out there that demonstrates our commitment towards that,” Johnson said.
Rogan, who said he is often the only African-American in his class, said he saw increasing diversity with more students of color. In fall 2012, his first-year class had 39 African-American students. This year’s class had 46. Overall, the number of African-American students at Butler has increased from 138 in Rogan’s first year to 160 during the fall 2015 semester.
Johnson said he believes Butler took strides and increasingly changed throughout his career at Butler.
“To see entities like a Diversity Center and to see us going from seven or eight percent to 14 or 15 percent, I think we have made some major and significant moves in that sense,” he said. “We’ve made some changes, but there’s more that needs to be done. Not just for Butler but for most college campuses across the country. I think they’re all facing that.”
What changes need to be made?
SGA’s Diversity and Inclusion board has four sub-committees including Race, Ethnicity & Spirituality, Gender & Sexuality, Special Events and Diversity Education & Advocacy. McNeiley said the Diversity and Inclusion Board needs people to continually becoming more knowledgeable. In the future, she said she hopes to see the student body becoming more diverse and have more diversity programs.
Gonzalez said recruitment starts it.
“Next year, we want to work with the admissions office and possibly go to high schools and let Latinos know that Butler is an option,” he said. “Because this isn’t a place that many young Latino students aspire to go to. We want to go and let them know that it should be or could be on their radar.”
Rogan said it would be amazing if Butler had someone who could investigate and follow up on student complaints or concerns. He said there are a number of things that happen on campus, and it would be beneficial for someone whose sole role would be to figure out what happens in those certain situations.
“There’s nowhere on campus to go to report these things,” Rogan said.
Additionally, he said he would like to see the Diversity Center continue to get more attention and support from students, faculty and staff.
“In a college environment, if your views, morals, beliefs, thought processes aren’t being challenged, then you’re not in the right place and you’re not learning and preparing yourself for the real world because once you make it into the real world, your views will constantly be challenged,” Rogan said. “Your thought processes will constantly be called into question both in a professional environment, a personal environment, so on and so forth. College is supposed to be that environment where you learn how to handle that and diversity is the root of learning how to deal with that confrontation.”
Johnson ended with one final thought for Butler students.
“Students today really believe that they can make a change. That’s different, and that’s powerful,” he said. “I think it’s important to know that universities do want to do the right thing. Administrations do care. A lot of times what gets in the way is not having right avenues of listening and for dialogue.”