UMW: University of Mostly Whites
By JASMINE PINEDA
In light of Black History Month this February, it seems like the right time to shed a light on exactly how racially and ethnically diverse we are here at the University of Mary Washington.
It is no surprise that UMW is not as racially or ethnically diverse as other schools in the area, especially in comparison to the Virginia Commonwealth University’s 46 percent or George Mason University’s 53 percent diversity.
UMW has better standing in comparison to other schools such as James Madison University at 18 percent or Washington & Lee with 10 percent diversity.
In 2007, 15 percent of the population of students at UMW identified as racially or ethnically diverse, and within a year that percentage increased. Fast-forward to eight years later in 2015 and now 24 percent of the entering students have identified themselves as racially or ethnically diverse.
According to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, there are many committees on campus that are, “committed to creating a community that is diverse, inclusive and affirming to all individuals,” such as the Office of Diversity & Inclusion as well as the James Farmer Multicultural Center. But to what extent have these organizations been successful?
Temitope Ogunbade is a freshman at UMW and identifies as Nigerian-American, and when asked about the special dinners at the University Center, she said, “I love the cultural celebrations because as a minority it makes me feel appreciated. One thing the school could do was place the demographic of the students and faculty on the school website,” where now all it shows is the 24 percent.
Gerber Ortiz, a Hispanic junior at UMW, said that “the school helps me to get involved with trying to promote my culture,” and while he is not surprised at the lack of minorities, he has suggestions to help improve the efforts. When it comes to the cultural celebrations done by UMW Dining, he recommends, “not only representing typical classic salsa but showing modern music that people my age would enjoy,” he also wishes there was more advertising of these events.
Jordan Barker, a white freshman at UMW, said that more could be done on the University’s part. “Even though there are plenty of organizations on campus sponsoring occasional events, the only thing the University has done was the diversity talk at the beginning of the year.” Continuing on with the cultural celebration nights, they are seen as, “fun but it raises a concern that it doesn’t really shed a light on the importance of diversity and culture, it’s just seen as dinner and not a celebration. Diversity of the school is a problem and it is troubling because it encourages the failure of recognition of privilege as well as providing avenues for cultural awareness.”
Annie Polkinghorn an Asian freshman, said she is, “impressed by the minority recognition and celebration because the public school system I attended rarely sponsored events similar to the ones we have here although my high school had 50 percent minority students. It’s not that people don’t want to come here because we aren’t so diverse but we are just a small school in general.”
Polkinghorn said she enjoys the cultural nights in the UC because they are seen as celebrations and the music makes the atmosphere in the dining hall more fun. At the low percentage of minority students here it’s not particularly bothersome, but sometimes, “I feel as if I’m the only Asian in a room and it can be uncomfortable looking so different from others.”
The real statistics on race at our school do not matter as much as how we treat others despite their race. Overall UMW is a friendly environment so the low percentage of minorities, especially compared to other schools it is not worrisome
There are many events on campus that UMW has to promote diversity; one of the most frequent events is the cultural celebration dinners in the UC or the World Affairs section, which the University advertises as “featuring international cuisine.”
Among the cultural celebrations there are some for Black History month such as Cajun celebration, Southern Soul Food Lunch, Caribbean Celebration and an African Dinner.
Later on this semester there will also be the Multicultural Fair open to all students, so while there might be a low percentage of minority students here on campus, we are not shy to celebrate different heritages.
If that is not enough, you can join many of the different clubs offered on campus that celebrate different cultures, even if you do not identify with that culture’s ethnicity, some of which are the African Student Union, Asian Student Association, Black Student Association, Eagle Bhangra, Islamic Student Association, Jewish Student Association, Diversability and Women of Color.
For the students, faculty and community members, it’s not just about awareness on different cultures, but respect and celebration that we all come from different backgrounds and can be “committed to creating a community that is diverse, inclusive and affirming to all individuals,” just like UMW tries promote.