Unmute: exploring diversity and inclusion, or lack thereof, on Butler’s campus

Opening credits to student documentary by Roua Daas and Aine Montgomery. Photo courtesy of Roua Daas and Aine Montgomery.

DOUGLAS ROCHE III | OPINION COLUMNIST | droche@butler.edu

Butler University advertises itself as a diverse, accepting institution, which I believe to be true for the most part.  From fall 2009 to fall 2016, the percentage of minority enrollment has increased from 7.6% to 12.9%.  The international student enrollment increased from 2.5% to 3.3%.

To put those numbers in perspective, IUPUI’s minority enrollment makes up 27% of the university’s student body as of fall 2017.  Furthermore, if you compare Butler’s numbers to Depauw, another small scale liberal arts college in Indiana, Depauw’s 20% minority and 9% international student enrollment is higher than Butler’s.  

While Butler’s numbers present an upward trend in minority and international enrollment, Butler is still more than 80 percent Caucasian and well-behind several schools’ minority and international student enrollment numbers. That being said, it is difficult for me to say that Butler can pride itself in its diversity amongst students, but hopefully this changes as Butler undergoes attempts to change via new projects and a growing enrollment.

College campuses, regardless of size and location, bring together thousands of students with an infinite number of backgrounds and experiences that shape their views and ideals.  While I believe a wide array of opinions on various topics and issues is something a campus can benefit from, this should not trigger hate or the suppression of anyone’s voice.

On Nov. 30, 2017, first-year psychology majors Roua Daas and Aine Montgomery published a 26 minute documentary of 14 Butler students that discussed discrimination, stereotyping, harassment, as well as what the students believe Butler is or is not doing in preventing this culture on campus.

Daas and Montgomery inceptioned the idea to make a documentary for their First Year Seminar, as well as to get a feel for the campus environment as first years.

Despite being critical of Butler’s campus and how discrimination and stereotyping is dealt with, Daas and Montgomery both believe minority and international prospective students should still consider attending Butler.

“I believe the interest [to come to BU] is there, but it can sometimes be a financial burden for some families,” Montgomery said.  “Although it can be daunting, you will find family here and I think if a prospective student feels that Butler can serve them, they should absolutely come.  The resources are here.”

“Prospective students shouldn’t let the [enrollment] numbers carry them away,” Daas said.  “Although diversity focused clubs are scarce here, the diversity center is a great resource and most students here are well-intentioned.”

Daas and Montgomery believe minority and international students can and should feel safe on Butler’s campus from racially-motivated physical abuse, but verbal abuse is more likely to be experienced.

“Some students are pretty reckless with their words,” Daas said.  “If students feel comfortable enough to shout slurs around campus, that is an issue that should be discussed more openly around campus.”  

Some people underestimate how their vocabulary can offend people becasue they believe it to be ‘funny’ or ‘just a joke,’ when in fact it can seriously hurt others.

“I think another part of it is that these issues are not openly discussed enough amongst students,” Montgomery said.  “People need to speak up when they witness discriminatory or abusive behavior.  When the words or actions of one person affect another, that is the behavior that cannot be tolerated on campus.”  

Last semester, Montgomery was in Ross Hall with her predominantly black friend group when a student in the hallway made a passing comment that involved a racial slur.

Skylar Jackson, first-year psychology and sociology double major, was friends with the student who made the comment, which changed the way Jackson looks at the student.  

“It is just weird to see her around campus knowing what she said,” Jackson said.  “I even gave her a ride back to campus from break, but now it is pretty difficult to see her as the same person after she said what she said.”  

Following the comment, Jackson was involved in an incident of her own.  At the end of the fall semester, Jackson’s former roommate, alongside one of her friends, reached out to Anne Flaherty, dean of student life, via separate emails expressing concern for their safety around Jackson.  

Jackson was later brought in to be questioned by Flaherty and when she asked what exactly she had done to be brought in for questioning, the answer she received was nothing.  Despite no evidence of Jackson being a danger to the two students, she was still required to meet with Flaherty.

Jackson’s mom reached out to Flaherty expressing displeasure with how Jackson was treated, but did not receive a meaningful response.  

Jackson joined Kappa Kappa Gamma this semester, where she met sophomore marketing major Alexa Renfro, who was upset when Jackson told her about the incident.  

“I am not that surprised by the nature of the incident, but I especially feel bad that this happened to somebody like Skylar,” Renfro said.  “That’s tough for any student, let alone a first year, to see Butler in such a bad light.”  

Renfro has not experienced a situation like Jackson’s, but has dealt with racially-insensitive comments.  

“I feel like it has been easier for me to assimilate due to my lighter skin color, but it still bugs me to hear the N-word at parties or people asking me ‘what are you,’” Renfro said.  

Renfro is the education and advocacy coordinator on the Diversity and Inclusion Board in Student Government Association, who are seeking to get a higher rate of students at DIB events and work toward a safer climate on campus.  DIB week is currently underway, which includes DIB-sponsored events today, Thurs., and Fri.  

One thing that bothers Renfro is the significant difference in campus climate compared to IUPUI, despite being just 15 minutes away from Butler.  

“IUPUI is certainly more economically favorable for most students, but the dynamic on that campus is noticeable different,” Renfro said.  “You do not need to put in as much effort to fit in on that campus.”

Renfro believes prospective minority/international students should consider Butler for the opportunities it offers students, but also they should be prepared to represent their ethnic group.

“Be prepared to advocate for your ethnicity,” Renfro said.  “In several cases, as a minority or international student, you are going to be speaking on behalf of your community perspective.  It is not the student’s fault.  That just happens to be the climate on this campus right now.”  

Frank Ross, vice president of student affairs, has made efforts to get a better understanding of the climate on campus by meeting with minority, LGBTQ+ and international students.  

As someone who represents diverse identities — being a gay man with a biracial family — I myself have experienced discrimination and isolation during my life,” Ross said.  “From many conversations with students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and international students, I know we have work to do to improve our campus climate.  I am very committed to that work and pledge to work hard on behalf of our students and with our students, to make Butler better.”

One of the things being done to improve campus climate is the development of a core curriculum requirement that focuses on social justice and diversity.  

“This new requirement will help diverse students feel welcome on campus by participating in courses with content that reflects diverse identities and experiences,”  he said.  “It will also help educate the entire Butler student body regarding diverse cultures.”

I am well aware and thankful for the opportunities and resources I have had at my disposal to be able to attend a school like Butler.  I know as a Caucasian male on this campus, I make up an overwhelming majority of the campus student body.  I also know that every student here has his or her own experiences, perspectives and ideals that they come to Butler to offer in exchange of new experiences, perspectives and ideals.  

With that said, I think one of the best things all students on campus can do is promote discussion of those experiences, perspectives and ideals.  Discussion can be discomforting sometimes, but that seems to be when it matters most in building strong relationships with your friends, family and peers.

Authors

Related posts

*

Top