UTEP’s SGA ‘Together We Commit’ promotes diversity

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Julian Herrera, Staff Reporter

UTEP’s Student Government Association (SGA) obtained exclusive permission for an in-person premiere of their collaborative video projectTogether We Commit (TWC), at the Don Haskins Center on Jan. 26.

TWC is a campaign and initiative created by UTEP Athletics, who chose to partner with SGA and the Black Student Union for a series of discussions that seek to address the concerns of the student body and multiple campus organizations in relation to racial justice, inclusion, and equity 

“I think it’s important because it reminds this generation of a continued obligation to lead, to address issues that have not been addressed sufficiently, and to take responsibility based on who we are,” said UTEP President Heather Wilson. I give a lot of credit to the students and the Athletic department for connecting where we are in this moment in time, in this country, to our heritage as a leading institution.”  

The title of the initiative drew inspiration from the University’s previous name, Texas Western College. It was under this title that the institution won the historic 1966 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game with five Black starting players. It served as inspiration for the UTEP Athletics department to begin a campaign on campus dedicated to amplifying the voices and needs of historically marginalized and under served communities. 

Faith Johnson, a member of the Black Student Union, led a discussion on ways to identify and avoid microaggressions. Johnson defined microaggressions as “unintentional or subtle discrimination against a specific group of people,” and noted that while these remarks are often not made with the intent of being racially insensitive, they are often the product of ignorance. 

“To combat these remarks, is to really educate yourself on what you’re saying and what you’re doing,” Johnson said. We have to be more mindful of what we say to others.” 

Kyra Lewis, vice president of the Black Student Unionspoke on the impact the string of publicized police brutality over the summer of 2020 had on people’s mental health, especially in the underrepresented communities, and social awareness of the systemic oppression and violence faced by Black individuals.  

Lewis stated there are a variety of options that allow individuals to support people of color, including sharing the most recent news, petitions, and updating their followings on social media with facts on court cases and other significant events. 

Lewis believes the current virtual landscape allows for those that may have been hesitant about attending Black Student Union led groups or eventsto join in from home and more easily experience the discussions without feeling isolated. 

“The biggest motivation would have to come from the top, and with the TWC initiative coming from SGA and President Wilson, two of the highest status symbols at UTEP, it makes it a lot easier for other organizations and other students to follow suit,” Lewis said.  

In his discussion, SGA vice president for external affairs, Austin Stephens, elaborated on his communication role in the association that acts on the concerns of the student population and coordinates with organizations on campus to meet their needs.  

A primary example is the recent evaluation of the campus police department which, according to Wilson, showed that students, faculty, and staff felt comfortable and believed they were doing well and will continue to operate at the high standards held by the University.  

Ann Horak, an associate professor of practice for the college of liberal arts, elaborated on the active programs throughout campus and El Paso that are contributing directly to combating racial inequalityThese include the Diversity and Resiliency Institute of El Paso, the Academic Revival of indigenous Studies and Education (ARISE) at UTEP, and faculty led organizations such as the Black Affinity Group or the Anti-Racism Task Force 

Black Student Union member, Cedric Dorman, said the path to racial equality is a communal effort, and confronting discriminatory or racist remarks is vital to increasing cultural consciousness. Dorman encouraged viewers to amplify people of color’s voices by acting as an ally, who continually utilize resources to educate themselves and others on the subject of race.  

“I know it can be very scary, but please, don’t let that hold you back from doing the right thing,” Dorman said. “I learned in recent yearthat putting my foot down and making myself uncomfortable is in the end what’s going to make me comfortable with being myself.” 

UTEP Volleyball student athletes, Kenidy Howard and Alianza Darley reflected on the creation of the TWC initiative in the athletics department and what it meant for them and the University.  

Howard said TWC was born out of the public outcry following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, and many athletes spoke to the department director about wanting to use their platform to speak about its significance.  

I feel like this is a very powerful thing that we started here,” Howard said. “I feel it’s very important for the incoming students and student athletes to really understand the significance behind iand what it’s about.” 

Darley noted the importance accountability and acknowledging racial injustice is key to finding a solution.  

“Racism has negatively impacted the lives of many Black people,” Darley said. If you don’t speak on racism it’s the same as saying racial injustice doesn’t exist.” 

As support for the initiative grows, the video project that SGA shared has already begun making an impact on its viewers. Hugo Dominguez, senior in computer science, stated that he felt inspired to research ways to be more mindful and share it with his social media following.  

“I think UTEP has created a very welcoming environment for culture and diversity,” Dominguez said. “Seeing that UTEP is taking the steps to address current social issues shows it is dedicated to the students and their needs.” 

The full video for Together We Commit can be streamed in its entirety on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=026lCqsJNM0&t=1s 

 Julian Herrera may be reached at [email protected]