The University of St. Thomas’s new marketing team has been working day and night to draw people to UST and increase enrollment. UST has enormous billboards all over Houston encouraging people to “Be Your Bold Self;” radio and television commercials; and advertisements with different businesses.
As more and more students come to campus, we believe the University doesn’t embrace the “diverse” student experience it chooses to market. UST markets itself as a Catholic liberal arts University open to “all faiths and no faiths”.
The Diversity and Inclusion organization, created in the Spring of 2019 as part of the student organization restructure, was implemented to specifically represent UST’s diverse community through events such as a panel discussion for first-generation students, multicultural food festivals, and an LGBT-inclusive BBQ co-sponsored by UST’s LGBT club, P.E.A.C.E.
A small group of members praised the University for its more progressive approach, while others questioned if UST was betraying its Catholic roots. After various debates on the Concerned UST Alumni Facebook page about the planned LGBT events last spring, the student group had quietly been renamed Campus Community by the start of fall 2019.
Vice President of Campus Community Samaria Herbert said she was told about the name change by her advisor assistant director of Student Activities, Shundeez Faridifar this fall. Hebert said she was told “there were people who found the words ‘diversity and inclusion’ to be triggering,” but never found out who made the comments. She also said she was not asked to be part of the renaming process.
Does this show that UST is too afraid to be seen as “progressive” or actually be progressive?
Many students, faculty and alumni support the attempt to celebrate diversity at UST, while others have different ideas of what it means to be a Catholic university. Just this year alone, the Independent has received two letters to the editor representing dissimilar viewpoints. Each letter defined the UST identity very differently.
Furthermore, the University’s student body has remained divided on the pro-life and pro-choice debate. Celts for Life, a campus-affiliated group, and outside organizations have been known to distribute pamphlets on campus that talk about rape conception and abortion when those topics can be triggering.
Moreover, the University didn’t approve the Celts-for-Life Cemetery of Innocence event in 2018, because “it was deemed offensive,” according to Senate meeting minutes at the time.
But last year’s Senate approved the Cemetery for the 2019-2020 academic school year. At a Senate meeting on April 30, former Senator Rosa Sotelo said “it is our duty, as stated in our mission, to maintain and uphold the University of St.Thomas’ Catholic values.”
The continual uproar and conflict asks the question: What exactly is UST’s identity? Can the school increase enrollment and appeal to a diverse student body while still adhering to Catholic doctrine?
Many students on campus have expressed that one of their main reasons for choosing UST was the “welcoming” and “open” environment sold to them on campus tours. Yet when they arrived, it was clearly different. Furthermore, campus ministry was advertised as an organization that mentored people from religions besides Catholicism, since there are numerous non-Catholic students on campus. In fact, the Center for Faith and Culture web page states “You’re welcome here regardless of how you define ‘faith’ or the extent to which you believe. You don’t need to be Catholic. In fact, you don’t need to subscribe to any particular faith. Come as you are!”
According to UST’s website, 67% of freshmen are Catholic, which leaves 33% of students who are not Catholic. Students who are not Catholic can join various academic, professional, cultural and honor societies, and even non-faith-based affinity houses, but the University lacks a multi-faith organization or even clubs that represent a singular faith outside of Catholicism.
We at the Independent recognize that the University is and will always be shaped by the Catholic intellectual tradition, but as we move forward, we also urge the UST administration to take a stance and explain what our identity is.
In the past, when non-Catholics have complained they don’t feel welcome at UST, they have been told the equivalent of “Don’t come to a Chinese restaurant if you don’t want Chinese food.” We at the Independent would argue, in this analogy, that if UST is the Chinese restaurant, they shouldn’t advertise hamburgers at the buffet and then fail to provide them, or dismiss the hamburger-loving customers who show up.