Art By Samantha Miller
“You Belong Here,” “You Matter Here,” and “You Are Loved Here.”
The University decorated lamp posts across campus with different prints of celebratory banners to welcome back all students for the first time since March 2020.
While these displays are one of the University’s attempts to invite students to the Pepperdine community, one must not forget some communities and groups are still oppressed and marginalized at this predominantly white Christian institution.
For those who have not found their belonging at Pepperdine, these banners may just seem performative and, at most, uncomfortable to look at.
Over the past several years, students have engaged in various activities that advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion at Pepperdine University. For example, Crossroads Gender and Sexuality Alliance became the first official LGBTQ+ club at Pepperdine in 2016. Crossroads GSA is an identity-based community that provides an open space for students to explore their sexual and gender identities.
On a more recent note, the @blackatpepperdine Instagram page — which started July 2020 — amplified the voices of Black students who experienced overt racism and microaggressions on campus.
Although the University administrators claim to promote a sense of belonging, the University remains a place of discomfort for some.
Instead of just displaying performative banners that turn a blind eye to the problems embedded within Pepperdine’s foundation, the University must ensure its actions and initiatives are actually supporting its students and making them feel belonged.
For students to feel at home on this campus, the University must first and foremost create an inclusive environment where students’ beliefs and identities are respected.
The journey to make Pepperdine a more welcoming place began during the pandemic, as it exposed Pepperdine’s ongoing history of racial division.
Whilst most students and faculty were not physically present on campus, the University welcomed J. Goosby Smith as its first chief diversity officer and vice president of Community Belonging in March 2021. Along with Smith, April Harris Akinloye also joined as an assistant vice president of Community Belonging.
Since community members saw several questionable actions by the administrators, such as School of Public Policy Dean Pete Peterson’s petition, the establishment of the Office of Community Belonging is a step toward a more inclusive university.
Now that more students are on campus, there are many steps both administrators and students can take to actualize the words on the banners.
More professors must start incorporating diversity in syllabuses by implementing a variety of viewpoints in their classes. For example, a professor of literature could assign readings written by authors from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
By exposing students to multiple perspectives, professors can help their students to understand the content with more thorough outlooks. Moreover, students can feel more safe and confident knowing they have the knowledge of wider social groups.
When creating an inclusive learning environment for maximized learning outcomes, schools must “take a comprehensive approach and address student and faculty identities, curricular content and pedagogy/teaching methods,” according to Assistant Professor of the Higher Education Program Juan C. Garibay at the University of Virginia.
Students can take numerous steps to promote an environment where they feel comfortable and confident to embrace themselves.
Unlike staff who are hired by the University, students have more opportunities and power to make changes. Whether that be through protesting, voicing their concerns through an open forum or signing petitions, students strengthen the culture at Pepperdine.
Just like Crossroads GSA and @blackatpepperdine, students have always been pioneers in advocating for change and acceptance. Students can use many on-campus resources, such as reaching out to SGA or those listed on the Office of Community Belonging website.
Perhaps the most effective way is to treat each other with respect, per the Golden Rule.
All students should feel like they belong at Pepperdine. Until every student can call Pepperdine a home, the University should not put up banners that wrongly market positive campus experiences.
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