Image Credit: Emily R. Condon for The Campus Trainer
When students look at reasons to choose a college, diversity may not be at the top of their lists. But, at the University of Maryland, diversity initiatives are being developed as the spring 2022 semester moves forward. The US News Campus Ethnic Diversity ratings found UMD ranked 79 out of all national universities.
On US News’ diversity index, UMD was given a 0.66, on a scale from 0 to 1, where larger numbers indicate more diversity.
Evan Oberthaler, a senior public policy major, said he is aware of various university diversity initiatives.
“I think that the courses added in 2020 as a part of our core curriculum are a great addition to our education, though they didn’t pertain to me because of my class status. I also know of the LGBTQIA+ equity center and the resources available to the community,” Oberthaler said.
According to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website, 13 out of the 15 colleges and schools on campus have diversity officer positions filled. The most recent hire is Aaron Guillermo Vogel, the Diversity and Inclusion Program Coordinator for the journalism school.
Leslie Castro, a junior early childhood special education major, finds that although the university is very diverse, the Latinx community is not well represented on campus. According to STAMP Student Resources, there are 17 Latinx student organizations. Some of these include the Coalition of Latino Student Organizations, Gamma Phi Sigma “Hermanos Unidos” Fraternity, Inc. and the University of Maryland Latina/o Alumni Network (LAN).
“The only thing you could say bothers me is that the Latinx community here is very small, so it’s hard to meet people that relate to me on that aspect,” Castro said.
Castro is not the first member of the Latinx community to make such claims. Conversations on a new Latinx student center have been increasing since 2021.
Allison Dickinson, communications officer for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, shared that some of the initiatives at the university include TerrapinSTRONG onboarding, the English department’s Antiracism: Communities + Collaboration series and the Bowie State-UMD Social Justice Alliance. Yet, some of these initiatives are largely unknown, according to Dickinson.
“Many people at UMD still don't know about our Bias Incident Support Services (BISS) unit and the work they do to support community members who have been impacted by hate,” Dickinson said.
The new Agora center will be a gathering place for members of the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council groups. The building will be taking over the former Alpha Epsilon Pi house at 4 Fraternity Row.
Brenda Merino, a sophomore economics major, said she is excited for the Agora to bring together organizations of the MGC and NPHC. Merino is the VP of Accountability for MGC and Chapter President of the Upsilon Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc.
“Our organizations are typically much smaller compared to PHA and IFC organizations. We usually do not have the resources like them to be able to have a house of our own,” Merino said.
Merino said the Agora will have offices, conference rooms, stroll practice rooms and lounge areas. This was confirmed at a meeting last semester, where members of both Greek councils gave input on what they would like to see in the new house.
Beyond the Greek life community, though, diverse students weighed in on the state of campus diversity.
Tyani Bennett, a sophomore finance and supply chain major, said she is unaware of any specific diversity initiatives. However, she feels there is an “overwhelming” amount of white people on campus. According to College Factual, UMD is nearly 50% white.
Bennett receives many emails inviting her to participate in events for minority groups which she identifies with. Some of these events are for groups such as the Black Student Union, African Student Association and the “Divine Nine,” or the NPHC.
“Whether it is for the Black and Latinx communities, or just the Black community or women or anything of that nature or just minorities, I get invited to events where I guess the category applies to me,” Bennett said.
Dagmawi Abebe, a junior mechanical engineering major, said that as a RA, tutor for the Office of Multi-ethnic Student Education and RecWell employee, he has seen first hand how departments on campus are committed to advancing racial and gender identity diversity.
Still, Abebe finds that diversity at UMD tends to focus on physical characteristics, and underemphasizes ideological and political diversity. However, he recognizes the importance of making minority groups based on race and gender feel welcome.
“I think there is no shortage of diversity initiatives on campus as it relates to outward characteristics, but [there is] a severe lack of ideological diversity and a lack of spaces for those who may differ in that aspect to have a voice,” he said.
Through involvement with the Ethiopian-Eritrean Student Association as public relations chair, Abebe has found a place for his ideas on campus. In this group, a voice for different opinions and ethnic groups is offered, as well as discussions on issues pertaining to those countries.
“I think this experience has been one of the true highlights of my college experience and the source for most of my social interactions and networking. I think we give students a place to meet those with similar cultural backgrounds, and I can attest to the fact that we’ve helped create many lasting relationships among underclassmen and upperclassmen alike,” Abebe said.