Student organizations are also working to increase interactions among students of various backgrouns in order to promote diversity.
Dr. Brinson instructing a Diversity Issues Class
"Interestingly, in my teaching evaluations I got push back for it [incorporating diversity issues] because there were students who didn't appreciate my incorporating other perspectives into the classroom," she said.
Brinson mentioned that it was critical for students to learn and understand diversity issues in a classroom setting as well as being exposed to them amongst their peers.
As the university continues and hopes to increase the racial, ethnical and cultural status of the campus, students are also coming together to teach and learn from each other.
Members of the Auburn University Panhellenic discuss what it means to be diverse in a predominantly Caucasian sorority
Organizations such as the University Programs Council, which is led by students hosts a dinner every fall semester to encourage students from different cultures and backgrounds to interact with American students.
The dinner is especially focused on displaying various cultural performances as the guests eat signature foods from different countries.
According to Deborah Weiss, director of Auburn Abroad, it is imperative that students who are not able to study abroad be exposed to students who have studied abroad and international students, in order to get different perspectives of the world.
Among those international students brought in by Auburn is Clara Baena, junior in Journalism and a golf player for the Auburn team.
“In the undergraduate, there are students who have never left the country and graduate without sitting in a classroom with someone who is significantly different in their cultural background than they are,” Mason said.
Since the student body is not considered ethnically diverse, there are other routes that the university it taking in order to teach students on matters of race, ethnicity and culture that is different from theirs.
Mason said that professors have the option to internationalize the course content in order to encourage multiculturalism.
“We would love to have a mandatory course on culture, even if it is one credit,” Weiss said. There are global learning communities but those are not enough because out of a population of around 4,000 freshmen only 20-30 students are there.”
Professors, such as Brinson, teach classes that directly tackle issues of race, ethnicity, culture, among others. However, she admitted that there were students who were not fond of her teaching approach.
Diversity in the Classroom
Baena, who came in from Spain, recounts having an overall positive view of Auburn and by being exposed to various international students concluded that the campus was diverse.
"I personally didn’t feel like I belonged here, and I was from Auburn and I even had friends, so many people I graduated with came here but I didn’t feel like I belonged here and I fit the mold,” said Hildreth..“ So if the mold doesn’t fit, what about the people that are very different? And have different opinions and come from different backgrounds?”
Staff members in the offices of International Initiatives and Auburn Abroad have recognized that there is still work to be done by the institution in order to especially improve the cultural diversity of the campus.
"Everything we do in this office is about diversity,” said Jennifer Mason, Director of International Initiatives. “We bring students in from different places, different backgrounds different cultures and different languages.”
The Office of International Initiatives and Auburn Abroad have created programs to facilitate the diversification of the student body. Such programs include, the international buddy program in which Auburn students are paired with international students in order to learn from each other. Both offices work to bring in students from different parts of the world to come and study in Auburn through different programs.
Origin of Foreign Enrolled Student at Auburn Fall 2015
Breaking Down Barriers
The students had just left a theatre meeting when a car with two Caucasian men blasting music drove by them and one of them threw a full unopened can of beer at them according to one of the ladies, Terea Abernathy. (pictured left)
Abernathy recounted how afterwards a series of investigations were then undertaken to determine if the incident was racially charged.
However, Hildreth mentioned that with the exception of SGA, she wasn’t likely to be affiliated with the groups that Gogue reached out to, therefore making it difficult for members of the majority to be included in diversity discussions.
With the exclusion of the majority, a barrier is in a sense built between the majority student popualtion and the minority.
Breaking Down Barriers, Cultivating Change
A member of the Black Student Organization and a senior in Political Science, Ben Baker, was actively involved in the movement toward ensuring that students were aware of the seemingly lack of diversity on Auburn’s campus and the ways in which raising awareness was the first step toward making an impact on campus.
“One of the greatest allies we can have in this movement for change is the white Auburn student,” Baker said.
“Because once they enlighten their fellow students, the people in their organizations and in their fraternities and sororities can say, hey there is this problem, and from there the real ball of progress can begin to roll and can knock down the pins of hatred, racism, and bigotry and we can move forward to a university that we all want and that we all love.”
Baker said that the students are often afraid to speak up about their thoughts on the nature of racial, ethnical, and cultural diversity on campus because they feel as though they will lose friends who don’t see eye to eye with them.
Word spread around like wildfire in Auburn University’s campus when University of Missouri’s president stepped down amid accusations of negligence towards racial issues that were plaguing the campus.
Auburn students were then inspired by the courageous actions undertaken by University of Missouri’s, better known as Mizzou, students toward demanding change. However, there were some students who were not fond of the fact that a similar protest could happen at Auburn University.
They took to an anonymous user app, Yik Yak, to express their views.
On the other hand, student organizations, such as the Black Student Union, that were concerned about the campus’s racial, ethnical and cultural status organized a forum in which students who represented the minority as well as the majority were welcome to voice their concerns about some of the problems that minority students at Auburn had faced.
They also addressed how these issues could be improved which would all stem from raising awareness by cultivating a culture of open conversations.
“My sense is that the majority of students would rather not talk about anything that is rather controversial but if forced to talk about it they will,” said Dr. Susan Brinson, professor in the college of communication and journalism.
The added value of spurring up conversations about issues on racial, ethnical and cultural diversity was highlighted by faculty, staff and the student body as an important step toward change on Auburn’s campus.
“They see the issue but they don’t want to go against the grain,” he said.“Don’t think about what happens to you, think about what happens to students when you don’t speak up about these things.”
He also added that different students that were involved in various student organizations needed to frankly talk about diversity on Auburn’s campus and the struggles that minority students have at Auburn.
Over the years, the instituiton has seen some improvement when it comes to minority enrollment, nonetheless, some of them experience adversity in the face of attempted diversity.
Through The Years
In 1965, Auburn University had its first African American student enrolled at the campus. This was to be considered a step toward desegregation of the student body.
Since then, Auburn has increased its amount of minorities within the student body. However, after 159 years since the institution was established, just how racially, ethnically and culturally diverse is the school?
As of Fall 2015, there are approximately 3,500 identified minority students enrolled, making about 13% of the student body.These numbers are significantly lower compared to the University of Maryland, which has a similar population size of approximately 27,000 students. According to the College Data website, University of Maryland has a minority enrollment of 39.5% of the student population and an international student population of approximately 3% compared to Auburn’s 6%.
Since 2010, the percentage has remained consistent, however, when paired with the increase of the student body population, the racial population has decreased.
Building Up Walls
An issue that some students voiced as well was the lack of inclusion they felt when it came to discussing matters of diversity.
Elizabeth Hildreth, a senior in Graphic Design, said that even though the university is trying to come up with ways to be inclusive and discuss matters of diversity she didn’t feel welcome.
"I feel like they want people who are different from me and people like me aren’t welcome, people who fit the general stereotype of white girl on campus sort of thing,” Hildreth said. “I don’t know of discussions happening or things like that I only hear things through email, so it's active and passive at the same time.”
She mentioned that by feeling excluded from these initiatives to cultivate a culture of conversation it made members of the majority feel like their participation was not required.
Hildreth recounted a time when President Jay Gogue reached out to organizations that were predominantly African American, in addition to SGA, in light of an incident that had occurred with four African American female students.