Being a minority student at a predominantly white institution is a situation that affects several students whether they are Black, Asian American, etc. A number of factors contribute to the composition of racial diversity on campus such as socioeconomic status, parental education level and gender. Even though most of these issues underlie the means in which the campus environment is constructed, they are farfetched to be completely controlled all at once. What can administrators do to promote racial equality or how can students “find themselves” even if they are a minority on campus? These are the questions we face every year and is an important topic that should be covered across the nation.
For many first generation students, race and cultural diversity at the university level can be an important factor. For many others it might have been an afterthought but is now a present issue once they spend more time developing during their undergraduate career. For me, it is an issue that has been more prominent in recent years as I have worked on research and explored other campus environments. Being a first generation Latino male student has placed me in a unique position in that I can take away different experiences in comparison to the largest population on the UT Austin campus: Whites.
As I am sure that other minority students can attest to, especially during their first year as undergraduates, there are instances in which we can become stereotyped or channeled into the “token” role. I remember during an outing with some of my roommate’s friends I was the only minority in the group and while driving a song in Spanish came up on the radio to which they all immediately asked me what certain words meant. This may seem a small gesture but to me it signified that they assumed the fact that because I am Mexican American I must know Spanish. Another instance was more recently in working on a group activity in class. We were discussing events from our past and when I mentioned I had frequently visited Mexico, the White male group member asked if I had ever “ridden any chivas (goats) or round up any animals.” Even though these experiences seem small, other students may have experienced more blatant accounts of racism and prejudice.
For the most part I believe minority students have not been rejected or ostracized from the mainstream population on campus. Reiterating the question of how students can find their place in a historically white university, there have been initiatives and student centers that they have access to in which they can relate to other students belonging to their culture. Along with multicultural centers, labs, fraternities and sororities minority students have the potential to find the group they feel most comfortable with and can reduce any anxiety or social problems dealt with belonging to a small population on campus.