Promoting interactions between a diverse student body is one of the biggest issues universities face when it comes to diversity because students come ill-equipped to engage in these discussions, a leading scholar on race and ethnicity told a TCU audience Tuesday night.
Dr. Albert Camarillo, the founding director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford from 1996 until 2002, was the keynote speaker for the debut of the Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) Program.
“We still are segregated residentially for the most part, so when you pour people from diverse backgrounds onto a college campus, they don’t have these skills,” he said.
Camarillo is recognized as a founding scholar in Mexican-American history and Chicano studies. His lecture, “Why Diversity Matters: Farther to Go,” contextualized the history of diversity and defined it as a celebration of diversity in a democratic society.
“We’ll be better Americans for [being functionally diverse], we’ll be a better society for it…” Camarillo said. “Maybe there will be less division in America, maybe we’ll get closer to being that society that has greater unity.”
His campus visit, which included classroom conversation and a lunch with faculty, was hosted by CRES along with support from the Addran College of Liberal Arts, John V. Roach Honors College, Center for Public Education and Women & Gender Studies.
CRES will offer a major, minor or emphasis in comparative race and ethnic studies come fall.
Assistant Professor of History and CRES board member Max Krochmal and Associate Professor of Religion and Ethics Melanie Harris met Camarillo when they visited California to explore curriculums for a CRES program.
Camarillo said the center at Stanford was started after student protests sparked interest in ethnic studies at the same time faculty were discussing comparative ethnic studies programs.
Similarly, student interest in more classes focused on subjects related to race and culture prompted Krochmal to look into CRES curriculums for TCU’s campus.
He said Camarillo was invited with the hope that he would bring a fresh viewpoint to campus.
“I’m excited that [the lecture] presents an alternate perspective from what is more often presented on our campus,” Krochmal said.
Sophomore communication studies and theatre major Brandy Tutein said she enjoyed the lecture because it was a unique presentation on the topic.
“I’ve heard a lot about diversity before and I thought it was going to be a lot of the same rhetoric I’ve heard over and over again… but I learned a lot more than I expected to,” Tutein said.
Programs like CRES are implemented in hopes of starting difficult discussions like those Camarillo repeatedly urged students to engage in.
Chief Inclusion Officer Darron Turner said lectures should not be seen as the sole answer to creating an inclusive campus, but they are a catalyst for these uncomfortable conversations.
“We have to be careful we don’t see lectures as the answer,” Turner said. “I think it is one of the solutions in terms of getting people to have a conversation with each other.”
Turner said tackling these tough discussions was one of the biggest obstacles TCU still faces in terms of diversity and inclusion.
“We’re a friendly campus but… we need to challenge uncomfortable conversations in ways which are going to make us grow, uncomfortable at first, but grow all the same,” Turner said.
Minority students make up 28.1 percent of TCU’s undergraduate population.
Camarillo ended the lecture by addressing undergraduates specifically. He challenged the students to go out and gain the tools, such as CRES courses, “to construct a better functional diverse society.”
“Undergraduates, it is up to you, it is in your hands,” he said. “You are the leaders of the next generation. Where this society goes, you will take it.”