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Westminster community confronts diversity and inclusivity on campus

In reaction to an October article, The Forum asked students, faculty and staff about diversity and inclusivity on Westminster’s campus. The general consensus among those interviewed was that Westminster still has room for improvement in creating a safe environment. Here, Alex Cooper, a Westminster sophomore, voices his opinion on the matter. Photos by Blake Bekken

Inclusivity and diversity are hot-button issues at universities across the country, including Westminster—as evidenced by the response to a recent Forum article about the inclusion of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on campus.

The previous article, which spoke about the college’s goal to showcase itself as an option for LDS students, garnered many responses from the Westminster community.

“Westminster College’s strength lies within the diversity of the school’s student body on a national level,” commented Susan Auchincloss, mother of student Sarah Auchincloss, on the Facebook post of the article. “The state of Utah does not need another homogenous academic institution looking to educate its own. It is important to consider national figures before considering ‘to be more inviting’ to one group or another.”

Many of the other commenters echoed this sentiment and said that Westminster is, and should seek to be, diverse and inclusive of everyone.

Alice Pugh, senior sociology major, had questions after the first article published in October. Pugh commented that she didn’t think Westminster needed to be focusing resources on making itself a safe-haven for LDS students. She said LDS students already have a plethora of options in the state that people from other religious backgrounds do not.

“A dominant group cannot claim discrimination or oppression when they have full political and social control,” Pugh said.

The October article brought two issues to light on Westminster’s campus: diversity and inclusivity.

Administrative clarification

In response to the October Forum article, Westminster College President Steve Morgan said some criticism may have come from misconceptions about Utah and the fact that Westminster recently inaugurated its first LDS president.

Morgan has worked at Westminster for 34 years and said he doesn’t want to change the Westminster culture. Ultimately, he said he wants a community of respect.

“I don’t think we want to have too many of any group of students,” Morgan said. “It’s the richness of the diversity that we’re most interested in.”

The director of the Westminster Latter-day Saint Institute, Rex Pond, said the responses to the last article seem like unfortunate misunderstandings.

“When we say to Latter-day Saints, ‘Come to Westminster,’ we’re not saying, ‘Come turn it into BYU.’ We’re saying, ‘Come to Westminster—it’s better than BYU,’” Pond said. “And it’s better because it’s not so homogeneous.”

President Morgan and Vice President of Enrollment Management John Baworowsky said that Westminster markets itself in a certain way, depending on students’ interests.

“By targeting individual subgroups, we achieve diversity,” Baworowsky said. “All kinds of marketing is target marketing.”

Specifically, Westminster looks at an individual student or target audience and figures out how to market to those individual groups, Baworowsky said.

Westminster does many things to create diversity, Baworowsky said, such as marketing to Jewish students, aviation students, out-of-state students and nurses.

“When you add all that up, you kind of get a mosaic of different types of groups,” Baworowsky said.

When working to attract diverse groups, President Morgan said in-state and out-of-state students sometimes have a stigma about Utah when considering Westminster as an option.

“To an out-of-state student coming to Utah, there is worry, ‘Am I going to be evangelized?’” Morgan said. “For in-state students, there might just be the opposite stigma: ‘Is Westminster a safe place for me to go as an LDS kid? Am I gonna be disrespected?’”

Diversity and inclusivity on campus

This fear of disrespect is not limited to LDS students but is also felt by other religious students at Westminster—both in- and out-of-state—according to Michael Popich, professor of philosophy and world religions, who has taught at the college for 34 years.

“The real issue for LDS students, and other religious students, is that they don’t feel like they can talk about their religion or religious differences without feeling like they have to defend their religion,” Popich said. “I know many religious students who feel like they’re not included—they say they believe something and suddenly they’re under attack.”

This tendency for religious conversations to escalate can begin with the push and pull between science and religion, said Jan Saeed, Westminster’s director of spiritual life.“There is this perception that you are either scientific or religious and that they do not mesh,” Saeed said. “I do not believe that. Science and religion are two sources of knowledge and both are constantly evolving and changing.”

Some religious students at Westminster said they have felt a lack of inclusion.

“Westminster is not particularly inclusive of religious students,” said Kendra Johanson, sophomore biology major and Seventh-Day Adventist. “I think they are very inclusive with regard to people of different sexual orientations/preferences, which is great. But with regard to religion, they tend to not be as inclusive and supportive.” 

Although some students feel more faith-specific clubs are the answer, Saeed said this segmentation could hinder inclusivity.

“I think we try to be inclusive, but there’s also a tendency to go where we are comfortable,” Saeed said. “So, even though we have opportunities to connect with people that are diverse—have diverse thoughts, religions, beliefs—there is a gravitation toward where we feel comfortable.”

The International Club has been able to combine the comfort of familiarity with an educational experience.

“I’m a member of The International Club, and annually we have festivals,” said Hasib Hussainzada, junior finance major. “Westminster students get to experience a little of the culture and food. I see people from every background, from different countries, religions and they hang out together. It is inclusive.” 

Historically, people are discouraged from discussing religion because it may not be seen as a polite topic of conversation and causes conflict. Popich, professor of philosophy and world religions, said he wants to move away from this.

In his opinion, the solution to religious inclusivity—and inclusivity of all kinds— safe discussion.

“I think the biggest part about feeling included is that you can talk about your beliefs and not feel like you have to defend them or that anything you say about someone else’s beliefs is immediately taken as critical when you don’t mean it that way,” Popich said. “We need to create a safe haven for conversation.”

He proposed taking a cue from the Office of Spiritual Life and creating a more permanent, regular version of the Coexist Cafe, a safe place where students of all faiths—or no faith—can come together to discuss religion and religious differences with moderators.

“[Westminster] is a natural, neutral place: an independent, private liberal arts college,” Popich said. “If you can’t talk about ideas—controversial or not—at a place like this, where can you? This is an ideal place.”

Saeed, the host of the Coexist Café, echoed Popich’s thoughts.

“Inclusivity is about allowing us to have and create spaces for students that are very diverse to come together to learn from each other as well as learning from the curriculum,” Saeed said.

Something Popich, professor of philosophy and world religions, said he stresses in his classes is that students don’t have to agree with or believe one another’s faiths, but they do need to understand.

“Part of being at a liberal arts institution is that you start to see things in a much more pluralistic way,” Popich said. “You begin to see lots of grey in the world. You understand that people are different, but that doesn’t make them better or worse than me.”

This pluralistic view of the world comes in large part from Westminster’s push for diversity—a topic that goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity.

In higher education, discussions about diversity are often centered on how institutions reflect the communities they serve and if there are underrepresented groups, according to Scott Gust, an associate dean for diversity for the School of Arts and Sciences.

“Definitions of diversity, in order to be meaningful, need to be about equity, fairness, balanced representation and opportunities,” Gust said. “That’s typically how we think about ‘capital D’ diversity in higher ed. It’s important to consider how the school reflects the communities they’re serving and the communities students come from.”

Gust stressed that there’s a difference between Diversity and diversity. “Capital D” diversity considers issues of race, disability, sexual orientation and gender, among other hot-button issues—these are the forms of diversity the college is working to represent, Gust said.

Although Gust acknowledged the work the college is doing, he said he thinks there’s room for improvement.

“Ultimately, I think at this particular moment we’re not doing enough,” Gust said. “The world is moving more quickly than we are. The things we’re doing are good, but there’s not sufficient urgency. None of it is sufficient to keep up with the rising tide of change—and Westminster is certainly not alone in that.”

Gust said it’s important for students to “see themselves” at the college and need role models.

“Seeing someone that looks like you is a really good way of making people not feel alienated,” said Tashelle Wright, senior public health major and president of the Black Student Union. “I don’t see a lot of students that look like me, and the ones I do see seem like they try to assimilate and they don’t want to stand out, for whatever reason that may be.”

Minority students have found that, not only are they alienated, but also have to represent an entire group.

“It is very easy to disappear and feel alienated when you are expected to speak for your whole race, gender, class, or sexuality,” said Alaa Al-Barkawi, sociology and English double major. “I can see that the school does work hard to welcome students of all backgrounds, however, we still have a lot of work to do.”

Al-Barkawi said that Westminster’s academics can sometimes lack in diversity.

“One way schools can seek more diversity is to add diversity within the subjects we’re being taught,” Al-Barkawi said. “Our textbooks need to be more inclusive, as well as the subject matter of classrooms.”

Some faculty also recognize this and are working to make Westminster a more representative place.

“Students from minority backgrounds are more likely to be recruited and stay at places where they see their cultural identity validated and affirmed,” said Gust, associate dean for diversity. “They see people as professors who look like them. They take classes that include content that’s relevant to their community. There’s an urgency for role models.”

Studies have shown that this diversity in faculty is beneficial for everyone, not just minority students, according to Gust.

“All the evidence shows that a diverse education is a better education for everyone,” Gust said. “It’s more reflective of what you need to know and how you can be prepared to succeed in what the world actually looks like today.”

President Morgan and Westminster faculty, staff and students said they hope to continually work toward a diverse, inclusive campus.

“I think inclusivity is a constant process, and we can’t say we’ve made it,” said Saeed, director of spiritual life. “We are trying to be inclusive. How we help all students feel welcome is going to be a very positive part of this new administration, and yet it will be challenging.”

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48 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Westminster is not doing enough. If your definition of "diversity" is aviation students, you do not understand the problem. If you say you do not want one group to be predominate on campus, but then not acknowledge that the campus is predominately white, you do not understand the problem.

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  2. Avatar

    So we’re diverse because of our majors? Good job attracting even more middle/ upper class white people with that one.

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  3. Avatar

    This article is essentially saying "let’s be more diverse by attracting more middle and upper class white students."

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  4. Avatar

    Let’s just post an article about diversity that has no mention of racially marginalized groups or people of color. Making this a safe space for LDS students is important but it is a minuscule piece of the real problem when it comes to diversity and inclusion on this campus. We want to be as inclusive as possible and focusing on another Christian group that is predominantly white is not exactly profound.

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    This campus is ridiculously abilist but good thing we include aviation and nursing students! Focusing on attracting students based on areas of study that we are known for is not recruiting diversity.

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  6. Avatar

    How about we try and make this campus a safe space for people with disabilities? My friend can barely get up the hill to one of two "accessible" apartments yet we are proud of ourselves for attracting students to our aviation program? We want it to be a safe space so that religious majorities within the state of Utah don’t feel targeted but it can hardly (if at all) be considered a safe space for students with disabilities on campus.

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  7. Avatar

    This campus is not inclusive of students with different ‘sexual preferences’ and the implication in this article that it is without speaking to the queer experience on campus is offensive. I expected better from the forum.

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      If you don’t mind my asking, how exactly does the campus discriminate against homo- or bisexual students? Best I’ve been able to tell, aside from Title IX the condom jar, the school tries to not be involved in our sex lives at all- thankfully so!

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    “I think they are very inclusive with regard to people of different sexual orientations/preferences, which is great. But with regard to religion, they tend to not be as inclusive and supportive.” I’m sorry, what religious experience or views do you not feel safe expressing? Racist ones? Queerphobic ones? Sexist ones? Keep that shit to yourself.

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  9. Avatar

    So we want to be more diverse but our students still think that making the campus safer and more accessible to students with disabilities is "socialism."

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  10. Avatar

    Where’s the intersectionality coverage here? The main focus on religious identities with almost no mention of ability, trans issues, queerness, racism, class etc is nothing more than a whitewashed perception of diversity. I am embarrassed for the forum.

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  11. Avatar

    An administration that does not acknowledge the gender and racial microaggression on campus is utter bullshit. We deserve better. Racial fatigue is real!

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  12. Avatar

    Help me understand how this campus is inclusive of people with different sexual orientations, genders. People are still called out, shamed, and teased for their preferred pronouns.

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  13. Avatar

    Why are the ski teams getting full rides for basically being rich enough to afford the sport when we don’t even offer minority scholarships?

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  14. Avatar

    Steve Morgan just wants LDS people for their money and class status shame on the forum for being complicit in that bullshit agenda.

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  15. Avatar

    This is embarrassing to read. If the forum’s conception of diversity is based around a single group of people who are generally wealthier, less marginalized, and white then it is a misconception. #intersectionality
    Diversity is more than including LDS people. It’s queer, trans, people of color, class, social status, ability/ disability, etc.

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  16. Avatar

    If this campus is so inclusive why do people have to go on a ridiculous hunt to find a gender neutral bathroom?

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      Yaaaass!

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      Right? I love how one person stated " “I think they are very inclusive with regard to people of different sexual orientations/preferences, which is great. But with regard to religion, they tend to not be as inclusive and supportive.” —how where? Where is the proof of that? How is Westminster not supportive of religion? There is a f*cking LDS center on campus??? I am appalled.

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  17. Avatar

    I refuse to accept this rhetoric from the administration as normal. You need to explain to us why your view of diversity leaves out so many people! You need to explain to us why you don’t see a problem with continuing to exclude minorities!

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  18. Avatar

    It disturbs me greatly that the Vice President of Enrollment thinks that diversity is Aviation Students, Nursing Students, out of state students, and Jewish students. No wonder the population of Westminster continues to be white upper to middle class students. This article fails to discuss how this campus is not inclusive to people of color, students with disabilities, or queer students. Focusing on whether the campus is or is not inclusive to different predominately white Christian religious groups is not diversity. Furthermore, President Morgan’s focus on recruiting white LDS students will not in anyway contribute to an increase of diversity on this campus. President Morgan’s focus on recruiting white LDS students has to do with money. That is it. The money in this state is almost all within the LDS community. If Westminster wants big donations and wealthy donors then we need to get along with the LDS church (ie. we need more LDS students). If this school wants to increase diversity perhaps we can start with giving scholarship to people who need them not to students on the US ski team. Any student who is wealthy enough to have made it in the world of ski racing does not need a full ride to sometimes attend classes at Westminster. President Morgan says he doesn’t want to change the culture of Westminster, but i’d say the culture on this campus is in desperate need of change. The Forum should be ashamed for publishing this article

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      !!!!!!!!!

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      Damn…I literally could not have said this better myself. Thanks for speaking up Avey. I applaud you. <3

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      • Avatar

        Thanks for your comment Marlene. <3

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  19. Avatar

    So I can’t get a scholarship for being a minority when I’m the only black person in all but one of my classes, but god forbid an LDS student comes here and feels that they don’t have the same privilege they had in a predominantly white, Christian group that is the majority religion in the state of Utah.

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  20. Avatar

    I’m really glad that the forum thinks they’re hitting the mark on the "hot button issue" of diversity. No, actually I’m not because the forum is about a mile off the mark and I still pay more than My family can afford in tuition because this is one of the few liberal arts colleges in the United States that doesn’t offer scholarships for people of color. #priorities

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  21. Avatar

    So is the only religion we should be concerned about Christianity? What about Muslims? What about Jews? Oh wait they were mentioned. Once.

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      I completely agree! If you want to talk about religious intolerance on campus you should be discussing non-Christian religious. Or maybe even non-Abrahamic religious (gasp)

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  22. Avatar

    So if diversity is based off of our major then we must be hella diverse. This is ridiculous and I’m ashamed that this is the best my school could come up with on diversity. Try harder. I beg of you.

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  23. Avatar

    Thanks for writing that the school could be ‘more expecting of others’ underneath the picture included and failing to demonstrate that in the article. I reject the notion that religious beliefs are so closely tied to an identity that they might trump something like sexual orientation, gender identity, race etc. The LDS church has a history of discrimination against queer people, the rhetoric the church spews is no doubt responsible for queer kids committing suicide, closeting themselves, self harm, depression, being rendered homeless etc. That is violent discriminatory rhetoric. And although not all of the LDS faith would count themselves as being homophobic, supporting an organization that is so anti queer is being part of the problem. How dare the Forum belittle the struggles of an oppressed minority group and attempt to correlate them with an population that controls nearly all of Utah. I want to cry. I literally cannot believe something like this would be published. How dare you.

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      I feel like we should collaborate. I and few other students had the same response. Feel free to reach out.

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  24. Avatar

    O, I bet Morgan doesn’t want our community to change. That is really obvious. "I don’t think we want to have too many of any groups of students", is that honestly something Westminster is concerned with? The only "group" there is is primarily white- middle/upper class white people. wtf? If Westminster focused on actual diversity it wouldn’t have all that money flowing in. If The Forum is going to publish an article about "Diversity" it should probably go beyond protecting (and apologizing to) all the LDS kids for "hurting" their feelings with their last article. What about caring for the feelings of minorities on campus? What about us? WE ARE HERE!!

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  25. Avatar

    Love seeing all the kiddies comment like middle school girls about how angry they are. The school literally begs people to speak about these things, let’s be adults and write letters to the editor, write letters to Steve and think of solutions. Critism does nothing especially when the forum has made an effort to engage people.

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      All the "kiddies"? We are adults, and as such we have the right to post our opinions here in the comment section. Let me guess, you’re white and middle class? You just don’t understand what the big deal is? Yea, what is the big deal about not including diverse students in the topic of diversity? I couldn’t possibly guess. Check your privilege. It is better not to publish anything about "DIVERSITY" if it’s going to be about diversity among white people.

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      • Avatar

        Hey Marlene,
        I’m merely saying that there are more productive ways to express your feelings. I’ll ask the editor of the forum to contact you so the discussion can begin rather than people just attacking each other. I think you’re making a lot of assumptions. I never said diversity is not an issue.

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        • Avatar

          No, there aren’t more productive ways to "express my feelings" because the Westminster community DOES NOT ask me, as a marginalized student at Westminster, how I feel. So this is OUR space to respond how we would like. We aren’t "just attacking people". We are responding to the article, there is a difference. You are the one you jumped into the discussion and called us "kiddies" who make "comments like middle school girls." What assumptions am I making? That you’re white and middle class? Well, if you weren’t than you probably would take a different stance on this article and the comments posted. Seriously, check your fucking privilege. You have no right to come into this space and try to silence marginalized students. People like you are the problem.

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      I’m sorry but you’re obviously not seeing the bigger picture here. We have a right to respond to this article in the comments section. Trying to demean us for speaking out about problematic material in this article is just plain sad. Also, criticism does everything. Now we are all sharing our opinions and voices about an article that failed to talk about diversity. So we’ll do it ourselves. We don’t need comments that shame those who are hurt when articles like this are written. We have a right to our own opinions.

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    • Avatar

      Pull your head out of your ass and check your privilege! Don’t try to demean my feelings on this matter just because you don’t agree with them and don’t criticize those of us who deal with this every fucking day for being upset that the group being defended is predominantly white, Christian, and middle- upper class. LDS church members are not a minority in the state of Utah and are by no means diverse on this campus. This article should stop apologizing to white privilege by stroking it’s ego and brushing intersectionality under the rug.

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    • Avatar

      Isn’t that what a comments section is about? Letting people tell you what they think of the article? Do you only want comments if they are positive? Perhaps the Forum should get rid of their comments section if they do not want feedback in this way. Plus I suspect that in addition to these comments the Forum will be seeing letters to the editor.

      Reply
  26. Avatar

    I understand that interviews become skewed and maybe something was lost in translation but I can’t believe that I was asked to share my opinion about diversity regarding school clubs and this is the result? I answered my interview, thinking that I would be promoting sociology club which is a club that works hard to promote diversity by implementing intersectionality within our events. This article, frankly, offends me and anyone else who thought maybe this article would give a chance to express real feelings about diversity and inclusivity, when it frankly just caters to the privledged folks again. I thought this was an article that would promote the actual minority students of the school. Nursing students? Aviation students? What about our transgender community that has felt threatened on campus? What about other religious students outside of LDS? What about students of color? Also did our president really just say that??

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  27. Avatar

    Lmao, you’re all just pissed because they didn’t have enough time to cover the whole issue.
    Diversity is a HUGE topic you really think they’re going to be able to cover it in one post?
    You guys just prohibit progressive conversation by getting insta-butthurt then insulting the giver of the message instead of being constructive.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Diversity is a HUGE topic and instead of focusing on groups who are actually diverse on campus and within the state of Utah they blatantly disregarded marginalized groups in order to avoid questioning a groups preschools privilege. Check your privilege.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        prescious*

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      • Avatar

        Yes we should all check our privilege including you. It’s funny that you imply you’re not privileged as hell when you go to Westminster and flash your Dre Bests in your profile pic on Facebook.

        Reply
  28. Avatar

    I think the purpose of this piece is to demonstrate that there is a lot that needs to be done about diversity on campus. The inclusion of quotes that are out of touch (attracting aviation/nursing students = diversity) shows this. It’s perhaps a snapshot of where we are as a school now with a long road ahead, as opposed to looking back at our relatively nonexistent accomplishments as far as diversity is concerned. Just my 2 cents.

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    • Avatar

      I see where you are coming from. It does show we have a long way to go. However, where we are is not acceptable. Especially when an article about diversity does not even include people who are underrepresented in academia and on campus. So, yes, correct, but we should not be okay with where we are.

      Reply
  29. Avatar

    eating popcorn while scrolling through the comments section Happy National Offend A College Student Day

    Reply
  30. Avatar

    I smell aromas of acceptance and tolerance all over this thread of comments. Good to know that I am hated because of the melanin in my skin and what I choose to believe. Glad to know tolerance is only one-sided. God-forbid if I have a different view from somebody else. None of you embrace what a liberal arts education is. Offended? Grow some testicles and get an education. Just avoid majoring in Feminist Dance Therapy.

    Reply

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