After Forum, Weight Given to Race in Trinity Admissions Still Unclear

Students of all persuasions left Tuesday’s town hall with vague answers to hard questions.

The admissions office at Trinity is located in Northrup Hall.

On Tuesday, February 4, the Trinity University Admissions Staff hosted an open forum about race and diversity in the admissions process. The staff present were Vice President for Enrollment Management Eric Maloof, Dean of Admissions Justin Doty, Associate Director of Admissions Jeremy Boyce, and Assistant Director of Admissions Michaela Knipp. The forum was open to the public for students and other faculty and staff. All four admissions staff members described their vision for a diverse student body as well as some shortcomings of the admissions committee. At the end, there was a twenty minute Q&A session with some students and faculty members.

Maloof opened with some statistics on Trinity admissions, stating that 65% of the applicants for this admission year were nonwhite, and 48% of students admitted to the class of 2023 were nonwhite. He stated that although Trinity is not a diverse university overall when compared to every school in the country, it is a diverse school for its size and category.

“We do not admit students solely on race,” Knipp added.

Maloof stressed the importance of having racial and ethnic diversity at Trinity. “We do take race into account when we admit students here,” Maloof said. He hopes that the numbers of nonwhite students will continue to climb in the future. 

Boyce stressed the importance of reaching out to people with diverse backgrounds, but also discussed the value of diversity itself. “We look at a variety of very different backgrounds when admitting students. Race is not the only aspect of diversity that we look at. There are some people who are not black or brown that can be more diverse.” 

During the Q&A session, one student asked what aspect of diversity is most important when the Admissions Committee comes across students with very similar academic criteria. Doty deflected, saying this was a hard question to answer and that the admissions process is so individual. 

“We do take race into account when we admit students here,” Maloof said.

“We can’t say one thing completely overrides another. We look at everything: hometown, high school activities, and their essay response,” Doty said.

Maloof asked the student if she was essentially asking “what race holds the most weight?” He responded saying that it is an advantage to be a certain race at Trinity and at other schools it is a disadvantage for that race. 

“For instance, it is an advantage to be Asian-American at Trinity because they are a low population group here, while at schools where they are overrepresented, it is a disadvantage,” Maloof said. “We will never admit someone who we think can’t do the work here.” 

“We do not admit students solely on race,” Knipp added.

Methodist Bishop Lectures on Christianity, Race and White Supremacy in America

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, William Willimon, a Methodist Bishop, spoke at Trinity University in Parker Chapel about racism and Christianity. About half of the hour was dedicated to laying out his thesis: that Christians should confess their sins vis-à-vis racism, while the rest was for audience Q&A. 

Willimon first laid out the groundwork for his argument: citing common Christian themes of repentance and flawed human nature. “As sinners, we’re in need of rescue,” he said.. “[It’s] an inclination that’s embedded within us.” As such, Christ came to redeem people and save them from their sins, and that principle defines Christianity. 

Quoting a fellow theologian, Jim Wallis, Willimon argued that “America’s original sin is racism,” using that as a segue to discuss racism and Christianity. Willimon recalled a story when he went to North Carolina for a Methodist conference at 16, where he roomed with a fellow 16-year-old black teenager named Charles. One night during the conference, Willimon and Charles had a long conversation, in which Charles asked Willimon if he ever thought about the injustice of segregation in schools, buses, and other areas of public life. That is when Willimon realized that segregation was wrong, speaking of it as “they keep me in my place, and they keep them in [their] place.” After the conference was over, Willimon was on the path to becoming a racial justice advocate and confronting racism as a preacher.

Race, Willimon acknowledged, is weird for Christians to talk about since it’s not anywhere in the Bible. He argued that race was a product of the Enlightenment, a social construct conveniently concocted at a time when European powers were expanding their colonial empires and slave trades. Thus, racism was a natural product of the justification of the subjugation of people of color, marrying itself with power and bias to structure society in a racial hierarchy, according to Willimon. 

The question remains: how do we respond to this? Willimon turns to Christian teachings, arguing that Christians need to “confess our sins” and speak up when they see a racist incident unfolding in front of them. He also implied that whites were explicitly the target audience of his talk, arguing “My white supremacy is deep within me.”

He did express pessimism at whites owning up to their racism, quoting Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American race activist, about “white America never getting truthed.” Willimon framed racism as a “theological test” for Christians that must be defined as a personal problem while also acknowledging that racism is built into the education system, the legal system, and the economy. 

Willimon concluded by advocating for slavery reparations and hypervigilance against racial dog-whistling. “If an issue is about race, it is about race,” he said, referring to the fear over migrant caravans from Central America. In a personal message to people of color, he advised them to “be good at forgiveness” and “stay human in an inhuman situation.” 

Photo by Zachary Neeley.

Pictured: author (L), Rev. Dr. William Willimon (R)

Being Adopted and Colorblind in America

My name is Emma McMahan. I am Asian, though you wouldn’t know it from my name. McMahan is not an Asian name, but Irish because I was adopted at 8 months from Changsha, Hunan, China. My parents tell me they always wanted to adopt a baby from China, which is how I ended up living in the United States. As soon as I arrived, I became a naturalized citizen.

My parents took me home to a small town called Madisonville, Texas. The population at the time was just over 3,000 people. One might think that growing up in rural Texas as a person of color would be hard, especially since most small towns in Texas have a majority white population. This was not the case for me. Racial discrimination rarely affected me when I lived in Madisonville. In fact, it was when I moved to Houston that I started to experience racial discrimination. 

In Madisonville, I remember playing cowboys and Indians with my neighbors and my classmates at school. I always wore my cowboy hat or baseball cap wherever I went. When most people think of cowboys or American farm dwellers, a small, Asian girl does not come to mind. Nonetheless, I wore whatever my parents bought me to wear or what my younger brother Liam wore: jeans, t-shirts, overalls, some kind of hat, and of course, cowboy boots. 

My parents do not see me any differently because I am Chinese.

Even though I am racially and ethnically Chinese, I did not grow up with Chinese culture. I never learned Chinese in the home because my parents did not speak Chinese. For supper, my parents cooked me burgers, steak, beef stew, and spaghetti instead of rice or stir fry. My parents raised me in their Irish-American culture with a Texan twist. They did not force Chinese culture in my life because of my skin color. My parents wanted me to feel included in the family just as much as my brother, who is not adopted. 

My parents do not see me any differently because I am Chinese. Humorously, my mom often forgets that she adopted me. She tells me, “I always think of you as if I had you myself.” How much more inclusive could she be? My skin color never mattered to her, but she loves me because I am her daughter, regardless of what I look like.

This is where a fine line appears between race and culture. Some people like to comment on how “American” I am when they first get to know me. Race is race, but I’d say culture is much more important. One is not required to be a certain race to practice a certain culture. Racially, I am Chinese. Culturally, I am Irish-American-Texan. This is the beauty of America: you don’t have to be a certain race to practice our culture. My parents were colorblind while raising me, and still are colorblind. They always taught me what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught: never judge based on color. This colorblind approach has always stuck with me. I find racism deplorable because I’ve been taught to love others because of their personhood and character, not their race. 

You can’t change race, so why judge others for it? Judgment should always focus on character, not color. This is not to deny racial identity, but to focus instead on what means more. Culture is much more meaningful because culture can be chosen. Race should not define culture, either. While some may argue that race is a big part of culture, this doesn’t have to be the case in America. As an adoptee, I believe that my culture completes my identity more than my race does. My experience as an adoptee has shaped my colorblind attitude. Because my parents love me for my character, I learned to love others for theirs as well.

Indian Man Accused of White Supremacy

Local Trinity student and military history enthusiast Niraj Sengupta came under fire recently for alleged white supremacist sympathies.

Sengupta’s interest in World War II military history has led many liberals to believe that he secretly harbors a hatred of all nonwhite races. “He kept talking to me about something called the pickelhelm,” one student told the Tower. “I know he’s not white, but something’s fishy here.”

Other reports indicate that Sengupta frequently enjoys wartime novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Catch-22.

Sengupta, whose family hails from India, did not deny the accusations outright. “I’m brown,” Sengupta said. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

Alamo Heights race studies expert Clarice Woakes helped dispel some of the confusion. “Some people still stick to very outdated, restrictive definitions of racism. Today, we now understand that being a white supremacist has nothing to do with being white,” Woakes said. “Also, I think Indians are technically Caucasian. Or Aryan? Who knows? I bet there’s something there.”

Evidence for Sengupta’s alleged racism continues to unfold. “Stunningly, it turns out that Indians earn more than white people,” one researcher pointed out. “Sounds like privilege to me.”

Racial Discussions Between YCT and BSU

The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) at Trinity University held an event on Jan. 29 that facilitated an open discussion about color blindness versus color awareness. YCT presented questions such as “is calling yourself color blind racist or offensive?”, “how should conservatives think about race?” and “what are we to make of social justice responses to racial issues in the United States?” to stimulate discussion. The meeting had the largest non-YCT member attendance of the school year. This was due to overwhelming attendance from the Trinity Diversity Connection (TDC) and the Black Student Union (BSU). The discussion did not take the course that is typical for YCT meetings. The questions were all answered, but only by one side of the argument, with some representatives from TDC and BSU dominating the discussion. This left many people with unsaid comments and more questions than they came in with.

Regardless of how the meeting went, there was a much more productive discussion that went on after the meeting. Members from each club were able to ask each other questions and understand how the other side perceived the initial questions intended to lead the discussion. The discussion even got to the point where the members found a middle ground and introduced solutions. This just goes to show that the type of discussion and the demeanor of the participants can really affect the outcome and views of everyone involved. This may just be anecdotal, but it definitely rang true in this instance.

So what was actually discussed at the meeting? A lot of things were brought up but what it really boils down to is the question of equity over equality. YCT members were mostly arguing for equality by advocating decision-making ignorant of race. BSU and TDC members were largely arguing for equity by advocating for making decisions conscious and inclusive of race.

Individuals from BSU believed that white people will have to put themselves down and be “uncomfortable” for a little while in order to achieve true equity of the races, typically being facilitated by the law. This obviously is well-intentioned, as it advocates for the furthering of success of black people and other people of color. The only people who would speak out against this argument’s goal are racists. However, this is just fighting fire with fire and actively disadvantaging people through the power of the government.

There are many alternatives to using legislation to further the success of people of color. It can even be done on Trinity’s campus. Members of BSU and TDC felt that a way to promote the success and comfort of black and people of color is the installation of an “Afro Affinity Hall.” This idea did not make sense to many people when they initially heard about it. However, hearing from people who would actually benefit from it can really change how it is viewed. At a predominately white institution it can be harder for people of color to feel a sense of community and an “Afro Affinity Hall” is a way to combat that. Members of BSU believe that “having that space, that community, helps us to have some sense of identity on campus, some sense of community culture.”

If there are attainable solutions such as the “Afro Affinity Hall” to racial barriers, then it falls to those, of all races, who care strongly about civil rights, to work with the administration to achieve these solutions. This is the middle ground that conservatives and liberals can reach. It is not making laws completely conscious of race but it also is not completely ignoring of race.

Overall, this meeting provided two lessons to be learned. The first is that equal, two-sided discussions, elicit the most meaningful understanding of the actual goals and questions of the discussion. The second is that middle ground can be reached on political discussions and that this middle ground can introduce solutions to existing problems.