May 2004 (v6 i6)
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Incoming student braces for slight diversity increase
University is home to a multitude of easily ignorable cultures
by Ryan B. Martinez, Associate Editor

“These strange people offend my Protestant
TYLER, TX — From the moment high school senior Caleb Bassett received his acceptance letter to UT Austin, he has been bracing himself for the veritable sprinkling of diversity that will overwhelm him when he attends school this fall.

"They say college is all about broadening your horizons," said Bassett, whose small hometown of Tyler, Texas, is predominantly white. "But I've heard that one out of every 10 students there is Asian. That's like...," Bassett paused to count on his fingers, "…one more than in Tyler."

His eyes widening, he added: "Intense."

Bassett is among thousands of incoming freshmen from small Texas towns who will be flabbergasted by the astoundingly minimal diversity - ethnic, racial, and religious - that dominates campus life. While racial minorities account for 47.6 percent of the Texas population, that figure plummets to 36 percent on campus.

Although the University is statistically less diverse than Texas in general, the school is a cosmopolitan center for students from homogenous Texas towns, where the only minorities to be found are passing through on road trips.

"I mean, I've watched television all my life, so I've come into indirect contact with people of all shapes and colors," said Government sophomore Janet Sherman, a Fredericksburg native who has experienced the culture shock of seeing a handful of non-white people on a daily basis. "But it's different on campus, because here they stare back at you."

Bassett has already gotten a taste of the staggeringly moderate diversity the University boasts.

"When I was touring the campus with my parents, there was this Indian festival. People in baggy clothes were dancing in circles, and an Indian girl with a really high voice was singing this music I'd never heard before," Bassett said. "And I just thought to myself, 'Man, when I finally start going to school here, there's going to be so much culture for me to ignore.'"

He continued: "And then I thought about how much better that music would be with a hip-hop beat behind it."

Bassett's sense of apprehension will eventually subside as he adjusts to his campus life and to the minorities who populate its margins, say other small-town students.

"One time in my Art history class, I was sitting next to this girl from Paraguay who had a really unique name. Mariposa or Ocelot. Something like that. Anyway, I asked her what it meant," said Sherman, the sophomore from Fredericksburg. "And even though I forget her answer, and I never really spoke to her again, I really feel like we overcame our cultural differences and made a connection."

In addition to half-heartedly embracing those different than themselves, many small-town students adjust by wholeheartedly embracing people just like them.

"Being slightly exposed to different cultures has given me perspective. It's made me question and wrestle with my white-bred Baptist values," said Brice Stevenson, a Business administration junior from Dripping Springs. "And, after all of that, I've decided that I like my culture better."

Conversely, Bassett's anxiousness is already giving way to a curiosity about different cultures and a budding commitment to racial diversity.

"On one hand, I'm a little intimidated by all the variety," Bassett said. "On the other, I think I've got a lot to learn from UT's miniscule African-American population and its small Hispanic and Asian student bodies. I don't think you're really complete unless you've spent time in an environment where all four of the major American ethnic groups are represented, no matter how lopsided the ratio."

He concluded: "That's why I plan on never visiting East Austin."
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