When environmental engineering sophomore Sandra Solis thought back about all the professors she has had during her time at UT, she was shocked to realize all but one of her professors were white males.
The overwhelming majority of UT professors are white, making up 75.4 percent of the faculty. Asian follows with 11.3 percent, Hispanic with 8.1 percent and Black with 3.8 percent of the faculty, according to the UT Statistical Handbook. Solis said these statistics can be discouraging to students like her.
“I think (diversity) is important because you look up to those people,” Solis said. “If a student sees the majority of their professors are male or are white, as a Hispanic you wonder, ‘Will I be able to reach that some day?’”
The Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan was created last March to help ensure diversity within the University, and a diverse faculty recruitment plan was a part of the document.
Leonard N. Moore, interim vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement and history professor, said diversity in the classroom is important to all students. Moore, in his classes like Race in the Age of Obama, has taught about issues concerning race and the black experience in the U.S.
“I think when you have people from different backgrounds it makes the learning environment that much better,” Moore said. “We grow as humans when we are around people with different experiences.”
Moore said there are a few factors contributing to the low number of minorities teaching at the University level. For example, black professors could only teach at black colleges until the 1970s.
“I think the pool (of minorities) is a little smaller,” Moore said. “There’s competition for the talent, plain and simple. The reality of it is you will probably have to pay more for a black or Latino professor than you would for a white professor.”
Megan Cadena, biomedical engineering sophmore, said she never sees any Hispanic, Native-American or African-American professors. Although she said a professor’s ethnicity will not affect the learning of a subject, Cadena, who also had a majority of white professors, said it can affect a student’s comfort level.
“(Diversity) plays into culture and cultural understanding,” Cadena said. “So if none of the professors are understanding or tolerant towards minorities or other ethnic groups then it’s harder for students who have those cultures in the classroom setting.”
Solis said as a Hispanic student, she thinks it will be unlikely to see an increase in representation anytime soon, but she wants to be the one to rewrite the rules and make a difference for people like her.
“The fact that (professors) don’t look like me makes me think, ‘Will I be able to do that’ in a sense, but it also makes me think that maybe I’ll be a pioneer or one of the first to make that change in the future,” Solis said.
Cadena said she has met many people of different backgrounds at UT, but in the statistical side, there is a lot of room for improvement.
“While I see a diverse population, we need to do better,” Cadena said. “I think it can help students grow better and actually gain from the educational experience, because they are not afraid or out casted to an unheard people group.”