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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Discussions on diversity

Each+of+the+seven+candidates+running+for+student+body+president+discussed+diversity+at+Texas+A%26amp%3BM+Monday+night.
Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker

Each of the seven candidates running for student body president discussed diversity at Texas A&M Monday night.

As the new Student Body President takes office, they will have many matters to address, including the broad issue of diversity.
On Monday evening, the SGA Diversity Commission hosted the seven candidates for SBP in a panel discussion about diversity in Rudder Tower. In attendance were Bobby Brooks, current SBP, and representatives from student organizations focused on representing diverse Aggies. The mission of the Diversity Commission is to apply core values equally to all students, according to Anne-Marie Prochaska, Diversity Commissioner and Ag Leadership & Development senior.
“We will strengthen the current climate and do our part in helping each individual reach their full potential, regardless of the elements that make up their individual identity,” Prochaska said.
When discussing the current state on campus, candidates made it clear that true diversity requires students of different backgrounds to interact and understand each other. Students must acknowledge what others are going through, according to Harrison Hancock, SBP candidate and political science junior.
“I realize as a white Christian man from the suburbs, I do not have the experiences as 100 percent of minority and religious and racial groups,” Hancock said. “I think that is the biggest step, is having people understand how difficult it can be for other people. It’s not easy. It’s not fun. If we can understand that and come together around our genuine love for this university and us all thriving and searching for excellence, then I think that’s the biggest step we can do to promote the success of all people, no matter the background.”
In order to truly see the diversity on campus, students must interact with other groups in every realm of their lives, according to SBP candidate and biomedical engineering senior Michael Zimmerman.
“My view of diversity is that it needs to be something that is constantly ingrained in every single aspect, whether it’s here across campus or in the way we treat each other and the lives we live,” Zimmerman said.
Regardless of how diverse the student population is, students must feel welcome in any group, according to SBP candidate and agricultural leadership and development junior Ben Johnson.
“It’s not enough to just be a diverse campus,” Johnson said. “It’s important to make sure people are included and that they are part of the organizations and feel that they are comfortable at A&M.”
Amy Sharp, SBP candidate and business honors junior, said her experience as class of 2019 president taught her about the need for diversity on campus.
“You come in as a freshman and assume that everything is going to be perfect,” Sharp said. “It is the greatest university in the world, but as you start to grow as a leader, especially getting a larger lense as A&M gives so many student leaders, you start to see that there’s room to grow.”
John Jordan Feierabend, SBP candidate and interdisciplinary studies senior, said he experienced bullying growing up and didn’t feel comfortable being himself. This changed when he began attending A&M.
“Texas A&M is the first place where I have felt truly comfortable being who I am with those around me,” Feierabend said. “I want to make sure that every student on this campus has that same support group around them, that they’re able to be who they are, regardless if that is a member of the LGBT community or any other diverse group of students here. You should be able to be who you are and you shouldn’t be afraid.”
During the discussion, panelists were asked about white nationalist groups and whether they should be prevented from speaking on campus. Michael Champion, SBP candidate and political science junior said his opinion is influenced by the experience he had in 2016, when a divisive speaker spoke at A&M.
“I was actually at the MSC when the riot control police officers came through,” Champion said. “I remember what it was like to be afraid that night. I remember what it was like to come the next day and see the MSC grass trashed from people standing on it. I’m a supporter of the freedom of speech, but I believe there is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. I believe hate speech has no room on this campus and should be condemned at all times.”
White nationalists should be addressed differently, depending on the individual case, according to Sharp.
“Whenever difficult conversations arise is when I truly understand how I feel about something,” Sharp said. “I think so many students on this campus had the opportunity to say, ‘This is how I truly feel about protecting my fellow Aggies.’ I think that is an opportunity that can only come from situations like that. On the other hand, there’s a difference between that and trying to incite violence. Inciting violence is not a protected form of speech.”
As they explained their views, candidates presented their unique solutions to diversity issues. A plan to expand dining options for students with religious dietary restrictions was introduced by SBP candidate and horticulture graduate student Andrew Michael Barocco.
“Most Aggies may not know what halal food is,” Barocco said. “They may not know what the certain dietary restrictions that other communities and minority groups on campus have because of their faith and religion. That’s something I’m all about promoting. I think cultural competence is a big thing.”
Champion suggested an alternative to the Haven online sexual assault training that students are required to take.
“Instead of making that an online class, make it a one-hour mandatory class, such as a transfer student class,” Champion said. “That way, you have that in-class experience and people can learn that way.”
Current SBP Bobby Brooks said he was glad to see candidates discussing these issues because there is a need for more diversity on campus.
“To be quite honest, we have a lot of work to do,” Brooks said. “We always do, we know this. This campus does have a very magical thing about it. We have a really good concept of family, when you’re in the family. Sometimes it can be a little difficult to integrate yourself into that family. We’re working on it piece by piece. This isn’t the last conversation that needs to take place.”

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