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Should UNLV Cut Cultural Programs When Diversity Worries Are So High?

unlv_diversity.jpg

Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services

UNLV is one of the most ethnically diverse universities according to U.S. News & World Report.

Awareness of racial discrimination has swept the nation in the last year. There have been shootings, protests and activism at many levels.

People see what amounts to discrimination everywhere, even in our presidential candidates. Donald Trump has said, among other things, he supports listing all Muslims in a national database and now proposes a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S."

But beyond politicians, universities are now under more scrutiny. Students and faculty are asking campuses to be more diverse. And beyond just the numbers, they're asking campuses to be more open and accepting to people from diverse backgrounds.

Despite UNLV’s ranking as one of the country’s most diverse campuses, students there rallied and held President Len Jessup’s feet to the fire a few weeks ago.

Desire Galvez was one of the organizers of the rally. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the rally's goal was to show solidarity with the students at the University of Missouri. 

But it was also to voice concerns about UNLV and what organizers see as a lack of resources. 

Support comes from

"What we've seen so far at our school in regards to resources for students of diverse backgrounds," Galvez said. 

Surbhi Sharma is a graduate student and president of UNLV's graduate and professional student association. 

She said one of the biggest issues is having a diverse faculty, who can act like a support system. 

"When you have a diverse faculty and you see someone from your cultural background it's just comforting to be able to talk to them, I believe," Sharma said.

However, she is not unhappy about the lack of an ethnic studies program at the university, because her focus on the sciences. 

The absence of an ethnic studies program does bother Rainier Spencer, the vice provost for academic affairs and associate vice president in the office of Diversity Initiatives at UNLV. 

However, Spencer points out he has had to scrap upper-level classes in the African-American studies program because of a lack of interest.

"So what we need to do is find a way to have an ethnic studies program, I support an ethnic studies program, but there has got to be a way that's doable," he said.  

Anita Revilla is a professor and director of gender and sexuality studies at UNLV. She understands what Spencer is saying, but she thinks students don't choose to go into classes that the administration don't seem to support. 

"I think the university has an issue of not recognizing these programs as important and not encouraging students to take them," Revilla said, "They work hand in hand."

Revilla believes diversity and acceptance of diversity at UNLV is better than it used to but she things much of the diversity efforts need to filter through every level.

"What needs to happen is people at every level need to know about this," she said. "One course of multicultural education is a Band-Aid approach. I think everybody needs to have access to these courses."

Besides ethnics studies, the students who rallied also want a multicultural center on campus. 

Galvez said its not enough to see people of color on campus. She said they need a safe space to work and connect. 

Spencer agreed that a center would be worthwhile because it would give students who feel they are part of small community a place to feel connected to others.  

"I think for student success its good to have a place where students can get together, someone would make light of it and say hang out, but even hanging out I think there is a value, if you perceive yourself to be a minority on campus," Spencer said.

He also pointed out that UNLV gets most of its students from Clark County School District and the student population is becoming more and more Hispanic. He said the university must serve students of color to appropriately serve the students of Southern Nevada.

However, he does believe there are plenty of resources on campus for students, including the Women's Center, a program for LGBTQ  students, veterans programs and for students with disabilities.

"Do we have a program for everyway you can slice and dice a student? No, we don't, but I think we make a good effort,"  Spencer said. 

One of the most divisive issues on campus when it comes to ethnicity and race relations has been Hey Reb the UNLV mascot.

Many people have wanted it replaced, because they feel it is associated with the Civil War and the Confederacy. 

But a recent report by the university disputes that characterization and President Jessup has decided to keep it. 

Prof. Revilla and Desire Galvez both agree that the mascot needs to be replaced. Revilla said even if you go by the university's interpretation that Hey Reb is not a Confederate soldier but instead a 'mountain man or frontier man,' it is ignoring the fact that those men colonized the West, pushing out Native Americans. 

Revilla also doesn't agree with how Rainer Spencer went about putting the report together. She believes critical voices were excluded.

"He goes to great extent to quote people who are affirming the mascot but the marginalized voices the people who he says were small representation were not quoted at all,"

Guests

Rainier Spencer, vice provost for academic affairs and associate vice president in the office of Diversity Initiatives, UNLV; Anita Revilla, professor and director of gender and sexuality studies, UNLV; Desire Galvez, UNLV student and rally organizer; Surbhi Sharma, a ph.D candidate and president of UNLV's graduate and professional student association

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