Our Regional Strength: Who We Are

Second in a series on strengths in regional universities.

The following quote was posted regarding a class I taught in 2015:

I teach in a classroom that has students from Nepal, Benin, Moscow, Vietnam, and China, as well as first-generation Americans of Mexican descent, Polish descent, second-generation Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, people of diverse sexual orientations and a fellow in a wheelchair – every persuasion of the human condition. In this setting, I find inquisitiveness and appreciation for different worldviews, religions, races, ethnicities, and other defining characteristics of individualism required for a free and open society: And each seems to learn from all. A young man from Hoyleton, Illinois, population 531, is sometimes as wide-eyed as I am. And all this variety from 27 souls, including me and the guy from Hoyleton.

The composition of people was remarkable for their variety. They were all graduate students in architectural design. Their uniqueness, challenges, predispositions, aspirations, backgrounds and abilities all caused me and the guy from Hoyleton to gaze in wonder.

At West Texas A&M University, every individual is appreciated for their uniqueness and individuality. All students with aspirations and dreams are cherished at WT for who they are. West Texans are rooted in unity so that our distinctiveness can be celebrated and bring strength, not weakness, to and for the common good creating noble citizens.

According to the 2020 census, Randall County, home to WT, had a diversity index rating of 48.7%, lower than the average in Texas, but diverse none the less. In an Amarillo Globe-News article from the same year, it was stated that at one high school, 26 languages are spoken. Gender and gender identity are also fully represented. The Texas Panhandle is home to refugees from areas such as Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. One refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo explained, “I feel like I’m a Texan. I have a vision of life so I can see now I am fitting in here.” Additionally, the nationalities represented in our region are nearly mind numbing to ponder. They include Indians, Chinese, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Brazilians, Russians, Mexicans, Ethiopians, Japanese, Filipinos, Egyptians, Vietnamese, Iranians, Turks, Germans, Thai’s, Brits, French, South Africans, Italians, Colombians, South Koreans, Ugandans, Sudanese, Argentinians, Algerians, Iraqis, Afghans, Canadians, Moroccans, Saudi Arabians. That’s just a few, there are well over 100.

Religious groups in the panhandle include: Christianity: the largest religious group in West Texas, including representations of Protestantism such as Baptists (particularly Southern Baptists), Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others. The Catholic Church also has a significant presence in West Texas. Orthodox Christians, following the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, or other Orthodox traditions, call west Texas home. And there are wide ranging groups that follow non-Christian faiths: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism to name a few. Moreover, there are a number of West Texans who do not identify with any particular religion, including atheists, agnostics, and those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Lastly, other groups include Baha’is, Jains, and Zoroastrians, as well as indigenous or folk religions.

And vocational variety represents a remarkable mix of pursuits. Such vocations include: agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, mining, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, utilities, information, finance and insurance, real estate, rental and leasing, professional, scientific, management, administrative, waste management services, educational services, health care, social assistance, arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services, other services, public administration, production, transportation and material moving occupations. A rich mix of people pursuing a range of occupations and professions.

New York City has nothing on the Texas Panhandle in the amalgam of the people who call it home. These people are our neighbors—people that we are committed to serving wholeheartedly.

The future of WT, The Panhandle’s University, depends on our willingness and ability to treat everyone as an individual human being, distinctive and unique. It is my expectation as president and my practice as an individual that every office space, classroom, laboratory and meeting room where an assembly of WT people gather should be safe for anyone. It is our responsibility, and my observed practice, as a public university to make it so without equivocation or apology.

The Panhandle represents a bigness and variety which we believe can be united in pursuing agreed-upon goals, as stated in WT 125, which breeds’ organizational durability and strength. The Panhandle is both resilient and forward-looking. It is constant. WT is proud to serve everyone with everything we have, collectively and individually. It is our job. It is our privilege. It is our strength.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns, with hyperlinks, are available at https://walterwendler.com/.

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