UT is diverse, but that diversity isn’t necessarily reflected in our social circles. Walking around campus, one may notice that students seem to congregate in groups that are similar to them. One explanation for this is the popularity of culture-specific organizations. While many prefer them for the familiarity they offer, these organizations may be preventing us from becoming a more interconnected student body.
Psychology freshman Haley Powell described her experience of this seeming cliquishness when trying to find student organizations to join at the beginning of the school year. She was surprised to see so many tables advertising for ethnic organizations. In her search to join an organization purely based on a shared interest, she said it was frustrating to find that many of these groups were also targeted toward specific cultures.
“It almost made me feel uncomfortable being white,” Powell said. “I chose my interests, not my race. UT is a diverse campus but it doesn’t seem to be geared for diversifying your friend groups.”
Many students, however, feel that they are able to find their place at UT within these student organizations. Sharad Sharma, last year’s president of Delta Epsilon Psi, said he joined the South Asian fraternity not only because he admired its mission, but because he connected with the people in it.
“Different groups have different sets of cultural rituals,” Sharma said. “A major reason why people join cultural organizations is because they like to stay within their comfort zones.”
Because of this natural tendency, Sharad said that there has been an effort to break the barriers between culture-specific Greek organizations. His fraternity has held “bond” events with other cultural interest fraternities like Sigma Lambda Beta, a Latino interest fraternity; Omega Phi Gamma, an Asian interest fraternity; and Kappa Alpha Psi, an African-American interest fraternity. He hopes that the Greek community will continue to host these types of events.
Marketing senior Isabella Pereira, the current president of the McCombs Diversity Council, had a slightly different idea about diversity on campus.
“UT places a lot of emphasis on diversity of ethnicity — and that’s important — but it could improve the way it emphasizes other forms of diversity. MDC is trying to do this by helping students leverage the traits that make them unique, whether that’s in an interview or as the head of a Fortune 500 company.”
Those goals have affected Pereira on a personal level as well. Pereira says UT’s diversity has made her more tolerant and accepting of new ideas.
“UT has taught me to embrace things I would never have thought I would be comfortable doing,” she said. “This school has put me in contact with people I otherwise would have never spoken to before, and it has made me more open-minded.”
Pereira said she owes a lot of her transformation from freshman to senior year to the organizations she joined. In addition to MDC, she is also part of Texas Spirits, a women’s spirit and service organization.
“Unless someone pushes us, it’s hard to go outside our comfort zone,” Pereira said. “Organizations can give us the push we need when they act upon what they say is important.”
In his time at UT, Student Body President Horacio Villarreal said he has seen our campus and our student organizations become more inclusive. However, he believes there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“I believe it all starts with our history,” Villarreal said. “Students are hesitant to join or simply attend an organization meeting because they have heard that club is only for students of a certain belief or background. We can take steps to rectify this belief by making a diligent effort to welcome students to general meetings or events that may not have much in common, but can learn a lot from.”
There is no denying that cultural organizations are valuable for our campus. They can help us become more in touch with our own cultures and identities. However, we shouldn’t allow them to divide us. As a student body, we should strive to stretch our thinking not just in our classrooms, but outside them, too. Diversifying our social groups can help us expand our views and experiences in ways that are not only essential to our personal growth, but can also translate into our careers. Moreover, it can help us have a more enriching, interconnected experience as Longhorns.
Almeda is a marketing senior from Seattle. Follow Almeda on Twitter @Amanda_Almeda.