Dear Texas A&M University,
My name is Leah Brown and I am a proud member of the Fighting Texas Aggie c/o 2015. I am writing this letter to express my concern regarding a series of statements that were issued by the Bush School and Dr. Upton addressing current racial injustices in America. The letter sent by the Bush Business School was disheartening but not surprising; the delivery was tactless and offensive. In writing, I hope to shed light on my experience as an African American on campus to start a true conversation about the lack of inclusivity at Texas A&M. In doing so I hope to help create a more welcoming environment for minorities on campus while reconciling our differences in a positive way. If Texas A&M cannot keep pace with changing norms, diversity and inclusion it will be left behind.
I grew up in a very diverse community with individuals who represented a broad economic spectrum. I was accustomed to seeing highly successful people of color. I was not prepared to combat the overt racism at Texas A&M University that I encountered but learned over time how to overcome the prejudice I was facing through knowledge, truth, and facts. As an entering freshman, I was very detached and unsure of where I belonged in the American narrative and thought my college experience would help me develop a positive identity.
As an Anthropology major, I learned about the complexities of our society, and recognize that it is not always fair, equitable, or just. While this is something that I always knew, my studies helped to build my awareness of socio-political conflicts and injustices that trouble our society today. I learned to appreciate people of various cultural backgrounds and acknowledge and celebrate my diversity as well. This awareness gave me a desire to have a positive impact on campus and showed me the importance of aligning myself with organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Texas A&M’s racist climate presented an extraordinary challenge but my naivety and tolerance made me eager to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.
According to the University’s 2020 Vision Statement, the campus climate continues to be challenging for many students, faculty, and staff. People from historically underrepresented groups may experience isolation, alienation, invisibility, tokenization, and marginalization on campus and in the community. Furthermore, factors affecting campus climate are not limited to institutional characteristics and events. Texas A&M was founded in a culture of racial turmoil and is considered very conservative; the institution excluded minorities and women until the 1960s. Racist ideas and privileged rhetoric have been woven into the campus fabric. The student body should embrace its diversity, instead, differences are heightened resulting in a segregated environment.
When people are placed in uncomfortable situations they cannot always think of intelligent ways to formulate a point and often resort to counterintuitive defense mechanisms to try and get their ideas across. I was subjected to racist taunts and comments on campus like blacks were enslaved because they are inferior beings, called “the n-word,” and in passing conversations my white counter-parts often linked my acceptance to college on affirmative action. Why did people question whether I truly belonged at Texas A&M? My courses on post-colonial studies and race and ethnic relations taught me a valuable lesson, knowledge is power and a counter to ignorant remarks. For example, I discovered in my studies that my acceptance was not a result of affirmative action but based upon my academic merit. In 2004, former president Robert Gates announced that he would not use legal affirmative action options to increase African American and Hispanic enrollment. Consequently, after much protest, he was forced to rescind the legacy program that gave preference/admission points to relatives of alumni. Policies like this only benefit the university’s white population. Similarly, incidents such as this, including the Sul Ross statue, serve as a solemn reminder of white privilege and the systemic racism minorities are subjected to daily on campus.
The University has a prestigious reputation for hiring some of the world’s best educators but failed to consult them by putting out an uninformed statement. African Americans make up approximately three percent of the student body, whites over 60 percent, Asians six percent, and Hispanics 20 percent. Regardless of statistics, the University has a duty to protect its students and promote a welcoming environment for everyone. Instead, Texas A&M has continued to dismiss issues that plague its underrepresented population to pacify discriminatory behavior. Diversity increases profits, perspective, talent pools, employee performance, and produces more innovation. Aggies should bring value to the global economy, not resist progress by maintaining constructs and opposing positive change.
The University’s Diversity Plan lists great initiatives to enhance cultural inclusivity on campus but the administration has failed to implement them effectively.
· Campus leaders must align the University’s mission statement with its policies and practices across the institution.
· Institutional leadership must commit to the development and implementation of the institution’s pledges to diversity.
· Diverse faculty advisors may provide students with a safe environment to engage in meaningful dialogue on race relations — giving them free rein to ask questions and express their opinions on current topics/issues — this can assist in dispelling misconceptions surrounding ethnic minorities in mainstream society and help to translate other’s perspectives with understanding.
· Monthly conversations between leaders of minority organizations, the President, and administration could help to highlight issues certain ethnic groups face and aid in creating an inclusive social climate on campus.
In closing, I take pride in being an Aggie and pray leadership addresses the racial injustice their students of color face and commit whole-heartedly to helping them combat it.