Election season was in full bloom at Texas A&M University in the Spring of 2018 and once again it did not fail to deliver its newest set of controversy. This time, it had to with much more than glow sticks.
Then student body presidential candidate Ben Johnson made racist comments on an old Instagram post which was leaked on Twitter by the student organization TAMU Anti-Racism, along with a note urging students not to vote for him. Since then, Johnson dropped out of the race. On February 20, he went on to release an official statement explaining his actions and his hopes for moving forward, saying, “I hope to prove that one thing I said 5 years ago does not define who I am today, and does not represent my ability to lead the University. I have matured.”
Nevertheless, his actions sparked a debate amid students at Texas A&M. Was the student population right to reprimand someone for the person they were five years ago? Is his apology enough to allow him, and the students he hurt to move on? Most importantly, does Texas A&M have a diversity problem?
Ricardo Mercado, former Diversity Commissioner nominee, has spoken openly about the difficulties that minorities face on campus, saying,
“I think at the end of the day the first thing that we have to look at is what barriers, if any, exists for minority students to be the ones running for Student Body President.”
When controversy arises it seems as though the administration at Texas A&M, much like other public institutions that are funded through the government, are reluctant to address real, deep problems that concern the student population. When big topics arise, it is easy for powerful institutions to issue an apology, and not talk about the matter any further. When this happens, it is easy to wait until the people that spearheaded the initiatives graduate, and a new batch of students come to school and have no idea what happened before they came. Mercado further stated that “it’s so easy for [the university] to play the waiting game, and the administration has done that.”
This is not to say that the university has not had great strides in promoting diversity.Texas A&M elected the first openly gay student president Bobby Brooks just last year. Additionally, the student senate elected Political Science Senior Jasmine Wang as Speaker of the House. Although at the time the student body saw it as the first step in a more open and diverse campus life- not much has changed.
In 2018, we saw a student body president candidate panel that lacks representation of all the diverse students that call this place their home, and it’s not only in the student body candidates. All branches of SGA have made it their agenda to promote diversity throughout campus without being diverse themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Texas A&M, but I don’t love how hard it can be to make a difference as a minority no matter how ready for change they are. The first thing people say when students argue against the lack of diversity is the lack of minorities willing to run for these positions, but why don’t we take a minute to consider why this is the case?
Texas A&M, to put it bluntly, has always been a predominantly white institution. It can be incredibly intimidating walking around campus knowing that you are the odd one out, let alone running a campaign against a whole panel of people that look and act like the typical student body presidents elected in the past.
Talking about diversity is different than seeing it in action. How can a university expect a student to go through the most gruesome process of student elections when they don’t feel comfortable in their university? Also, what do candidates that do not understand the extent of their own privilege understand the struggles of minority students that look different on a campus that prides itself on its traditions?
I don’t want to pretend like I know all the answers, but what I do know is this:
- Texas A&M will never be diverse as long as it is still apathetic towards the needs of its POC population.
- SGA can talk about diversity all it wants, but the only people that know how to go about making A&M more inclusive, are the people that know what its like to be excluded.
- Representation matters. I want a POC president. I want a president that knows what it was like to step onto campus for the very first time and feel alone. I want a president that will fight to make sure everyone feels included no matter your race, gender identity, sexual identity, etc. I want a campus that is more aware of their POC population and fights to make their voices heard.
Until then, until there is a Student Government that accurately represents all students and an administration that is willing to learn and actually implement long-lasting change, A&M will always have a diversity problem.