One in three undergraduates at Emporia State said they have experienced or witnessed discrimination, according to a survey conducted by The Bulletin. The survey, which asked five questions about attitudes toward diversity and the language framing immigration, revealed a student body that is polarized in its attitudes and clustered by race and experiences.
The survey was prompted by the controversy that began when Michaela Todd, ASG vice president and senior political science and communications major, made a political Facebook post which referenced “illegal aliens.”
The controversy has lasted three weeks and has prompted student outcry, a call for Todd’s impeachment and an ASG meeting to be canceled due to “safety concerns.”
In a survey conducted of undergraduate students, 45 percent said illegal alien was a derogatory statement and 35 percent said undocumented immigrant should be used by university officials.
The poll randomly surveyed 11.5 percent of ESU undergraduate students.
“I think that we need to understand...when we speak to each other, everyone interprets our speech differently,” said Michael Webb, Associated Student Government president and senior management major. “We need to...respect that everyone has different opinions, different experiences in life and things affect everyone differently. We really need to be careful with each other and respect each other.”
Those who identify as a person of color or have experienced or witnessed discrimination are more likely to say that illegal alien is a derogatory statement and believe that undocumented immigrant should be used by university officials.
“It’s difficult when we talk about individuals,” Webb said. “I don’t know everybody’s personal experiences so I can only understand to a certain point how anybody feels, but...it upsets me...when people feel (they’re) being ignored because it means we’re not doing enough. There are certain issues, systemic issues, you can’t solve it overnight. It’s something that we have to continue to work towards becoming better at.”
Of those surveyed, 38 percent of students felt the campus was divided and 35 percent said that it wasn’t.
The remaining 25 percent of students marked that they were neutral. One percent did not answer.
“I really hope that when we have any type of disagreements, we have polarization present and division present on our campus that we can talk with each other in a constructive manner, a productive manner, one that won’t be harmful to each other,” Webb said. “We’re not trying to change...each others opinions. Certainly, we want to see where somebody else is coming from and respect that and really just respect each other’s opinions and differences of opinions.”
In the survey, 68 percent say that Emporia State’s campus is inclusive for all races, genders, sexual orientations and immigration statuses. 45 percent said they felt the term “illegal alien” was derogatory.”
“ESU students are tracking pretty well with college educated Americans...in that there’s a leaning in favor of inclusion and there’s an alertness to statements likely to be seen as derogatory,” said Michael Smith, professor of social sciences.
The Bulletin broke the survey down into responses based on people who identified with a race or ethnicity other than white and people who indicated that they had experienced or witnessed discrimination.
Of undergraduate students polled, 36 percent said they had experienced or witnessed discrimination.
Of the survey responders who said they experienced or witnessed discrimination, 67 percent said they strongly agreed or agreed that illegal alien is a derogatory statement and 56 percent said ESU is an inclusive campus.
“I think one of the things that does surprise me a bit is that there’s not that big of a gap between people of color and the whole population,” Smith said. “People of color tend to be a bit more alert about discrimination, but there’s not a huge gap here in terms of opinions about whether or not the campus is inclusive and whether or not certain terms are derogatory.”
Of the responders who identified with a race or ethnicity other than solely white, 62 percent said they felt the term “illegal alien” was a derogatory statement.
Overall, 68 percent of respondents said they felt that Emporia State was an inclusive campus.
“We all live in a society together,” Webb said. “It’s important that we understand how to live with each other, with our differences and opinions. It all goes back being respectful and being understanding of where another person is, how they’re living, what experiences they’ve had and the opinions that they hold...We all have our differences and we need to respectfully acknowledge everyone’s differences.”