ALSU was again awarded the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine last month.
The University received the award in September along with 92 other schools, and will be featured in the November issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity magazine and website in higher education.
The University’s administration, including President F. King Alexander and Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost for Diversity Dereck Rovaris Sr., praised the University for receiving the award and its continued commitment to diversity.
“Once again, it is an honor to receive this award. The recognition by a national organization of LSU’s commitment to and delivery of diversity initiatives and programs is great for us as an institution,” Rovaris said in a statement. “We are focused on a continued commitment to diversity and inclusion and even though there remains much work to be done, we celebrate the good work that has been accomplished thus far.”
The University has received the award every year since 2012, with the only exception being last year due to a technical issue with the University’s application, according to the Office of Diversity.
Despite the University’s success earning the HEED award, several racially charged incidents over the seven years the University has received the award led some students to question the levels of diversity and inclusion they experience on campus.
There have been at least two reported racist incidents this semester so far.
On Aug. 28, gymnast Sami Durante was criticized for posting a picture of Mandarin writing on a classroom projector with the caption “Excuse me sir...we’re in America,” leading to backlash on social media.
Three days later, political science sophomore Foxworth Vidrine reportedly yelled racial slurs at biology freshman Christy Nguyen and her friends as they were exiting Tiger Stadium during the LSU-Georgia Southern football game.
According to Nguyen and her friends, Vidrine yelled at them, using derogatory terms like “ching chong.” No one else in the area seemed affected by the incident, she said.
When asked about the incident, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin said in a statement, “Regarding potential discipline or violations that could result from this investigation, we cannot discuss or disclose anything pertaining to an individual student as that is part of a student’s federally protected educational record.”
While the University has been acknowledged for consistently achieving Higher Education Excellence in Diversity, it has yet to be named a Diversity Champion by the magazine.
Diversity Champions are institutions that are known for their visionary leadership and “unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion,” develop successful strategies and programs to increase diversity and inclusion, which serve as models of excellence for other institutions, according to INSIGHT Into Diversity’s website.
The Office of Diversity has created several new programs for underrepresented students and has pledged to assist any students who feel underrepresented and desire representation. This year, the Office of Diversity has hosted 56 events and programs reaching over 11,996 students, staff and faculty, according to Rovaris.
“We have picked up programs every single year and we have expanded the existing programs to include more people,” Rovaris said. “Our undergraduate enrollment has increased by a significant number, so we are serving more students, but we are also reaching out to constituents that haven’t been reached and trying to include them also.”
Rovaris said the Office of Diversity has emphasized creating new programs for underrepresented students, including first-generation students, who make up 14 percent of the University’s population.
Despite these initiatives, some students have expressed doubts as to whether the University is really living up to this reputation for diversity.
“From what I’ve seen on campus, it’s not diverse,” Nguyen said. “I don’t see many minorities around. Anywhere I’m at, it’s a majority of white [students].”
Nguyen still doesn’t know whether Vidrine has faced any consequences for the racist remarks he directed to her and her friends on Aug. 31.
“To this day, I still don’t know what they are doing with him. It would be nice to have some closure on that,” Nguyen said. “I went to [Associate Dean of Students and Director] Jonathan Sanders’ office and he told me that Fox [Vidrine] offered to write an apology, and that he would send it to us. I never got an email.”
With the University unable to protect its students from discrimination in all situations, responsibility falls onto students to create an environment that is welcoming and truly diverse, Rovaris said. According to Rovaris, student action should stop situations like the Vidrine incident from occurring.
“No matter where you go, you will encounter unfortunate experiences where people will treat you on a criteria on which they should not treat you,” Rovaris said. “It’s how those places respond, and how they prevent those things from happening. Nobody said anything. But somebody could have easily said that’s wrong, and that’s the type of culture that I want to see.”
Some students, like screen arts freshman Chandler Robinson believe the University is diverse, but needs to work to include all students around campus.
“From my experience, LSU is pretty diverse. There’s a lot of different people here, so it isn’t mostly one type of person,” Robinson said. “I do think LSU could improve their disability services. Whether it’d be just temporary or permanent, they need to do a better job.”
History senior Dee Carter said she feels uneasy when taking Tiger Trails transportation, especially around Sorority Row.
“When the bus comes and picks up all the people from Sorority Row and on that river and it picks me up after that, I feel the most uncomfortable on that,” Carter said. “Everybody is predominantly white.”
Carter said she’s never felt unwelcome or had an unpleasant experience in the classroom, but has experienced some discomfort around campus.
“It’s my senior year, and I’ve never felt, from teachers or any of the programs that I’ve done at LSU, I’ve never felt like I’m not welcome,” Carter said. “It’s around certain people, certain students, that can give that aura.”
In 2015, the University’s fourth year as a HEED award winner, University student Clare Perkins tweeted a picture of what seemed like a noose hanging from a tree on campus. The University released a statement saying the “noose” was part of a weather prevention system that came loose and reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining a safe learning environment for all students.
“I was wrong, it was a wire that fell,” Perkins said following the University’s statement in 2015. “But if black students were more accepted here, I wouldn’t have thought a noose.”
The next year, a white University student suggested the creation of a “White Student Union” on her Facebook page, prompting the creation of the hashtag #BeingBlackAtLSU. She later recanted her proposal and said she never intended to offend anyone.
In October 2016, University student Jawan Fox had swastikas drawn on his neck at a party he attended. Partygoers said Fox shouldn’t have been offended by the swastikas since he’s black not Jewish. No statement was released by the University regarding the incident.
Several days after this incident, University student Clare Perkins found “Go Back 2 Africa N----r Monkeys” written on a Halloween decoration hanging outside the door of her University House apartment.
Alexander met with Perkins and her roommates and promised to help them move out if they wanted. The University pledged if University students were found responsible for the action, they would be prosecuted under the Student Code of Conduct, but the perpetrator was never found.
On Oct. 9, 2018, a University student appeared in a social media post holding a plush monkey by a noose. Members of LSU African American Ambassadors contacted Alexander, but claimed the University considered the photo “freedom of speech.” The University released a statement saying it was handling the situation and would be reviewed by the dean of students.