Race on campus: A work in progress

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The University of Minnesota’s mission statement says the institution is focused on offering a broad range of educational programs in a “strong and diverse community of learners and teachers.” 


Of every 100 undergraduate students at all campuses in the University of Minnesota system, about 15 are students of color, according to a fall 2009 Board of Regents report.


At the Twin Cities campus, the number stands at around 18 percent, which is higher than the proportion of people of color living in the state of Minnesota.


But diversity numbers at the Crookston and Duluth campuses are much lower, and in Rochester only 5 percent of students identified themselves as a student of color.


All of the University of Minnesota campuses fall short of the national average. More than 32 percent of U.S. college students were students of color in fall 2007, according to the most recent statistics maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.


University American studies professor Roderick Ferguson said he was puzzled that the University didn’t have an aggressive policy to recruit students of color when he first came to the University.


“Affirmative action is the law here,” Ferguson said, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will practice it.”


Rickey Hall, assistant vice president for the Office for Equity and Diversity on the Twin Cities campus, said the University still has work to do.


“When you look at the future needs of the state, the future needs of the nation, the future needs of corporations and the change in demographics, we need to do better,” Hall said.


The Twin Cities: Room to improve


Ralph Rodne, an African-American student and marketing senior from demographically diverse New Jersey, said he sometimes feels uncomfortable as a student of color on campus. He said he believes that the University is not where it needs to be in creating a diverse campus for students to learn how to interact with people of color.


“The 18 percent may seem large to some other people, but it’s very noticeable to us as students of color, especially in some programs such as Carlson,” Rodne said.


Board of Regents policy states that the University will “advocate and practice affirmative action consistent with law, including the use of recruiting and search processes to enhance participation of racial minorities, women, persons with disabilities and protected veterans.”


Wayne Sigler, director of admissions at the Twin Cities campus, said the University very purposefully seeks out students of color through direct marketing, high school counselor outreach efforts, visiting school fairs and working with community programs, among many other things. Sigler also said the University tries to start recruiting students when they are sophomores in high school, and the recruitment process spans over the three years until college admission.


Ferguson said that if a University does not produce a demographically diverse student population, the result can be students who are not well-rounded.


“Universities are supposed to be places where you actually have to encounter people who are different from you,” Ferguson said. “Because when that happens, you also encounter people who have different ideas than you or a different history than you, and that’s the ideal of a modern university.”


Morris leads the pack


While three of the other campuses trail behind the Twin Cities, the Morris campus leads the pack with 20 percent of its population made up by students of color.


American Indians, many of whom receive free tuition at the Morris campus, make up 12 percent of those minority students.


The University of Minnesota-Morris started as an American Indian boarding school. When the land was turned over to the state, there was an agreement made to allow free education for American Indians, said Hilda Ladner, director of the Multi-Ethnic Student Program and assistant to the chancellor for equity and diversity.


Bryan Herrmann, director of admissions for the Morris campus, said that through strategic planning, the Morris campus is working toward a student-of-color population of about 25 percent.


Hermann said the University is doing that with its regular channels of marketing and partnering with organizations to get high school students into college with strong applications.


The new Rochester


The lowest population of students of color was at the University’s Rochester campus, where students of color make up about 5 percent of the student population.


Jade Bakke, the director of admissions at the Rochester campus, said that as a new school that just admitted its first class of 57 undergraduate students this past fall, it faces many challenges.


The school only offers one undergraduate program: a bachelor of science in health sciences.


“We do not offer multiple academic programs like other universities do,” Bakke said. “Offering one academic program limits our applicants to only students that are very interested in an education and a career in health science, research and bioscience industry.”


Jennifer Hegland, Rochester’s capstone coordinator, said the school is also purposefully working toward recruiting students of color by reaching out to Rochester’s large Somali population and working with groups like Admission Possible and the Minnesota Association for College Admission Counseling.


Hegland also said that because the school is new and small, the University tries to attend every event they are invited to in order to recruit new students.


Duluth lags behind


Only 7 percent of the system’s second-largest campus identified themselves as students of color. Despite the low number, Ryan Jordan, a diversity counselor with the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s admissions office, said he wouldn’t identify the numbers as a problem.


“Working with underrepresented populations, we focus on ‘fit,’ ” Jordan said. “It’s a tough word to define, but majors and programs come first, and the second is location. Can a student handle leaving the metro location?”


Jordan said a possibility for the low numbers is the location of Duluth, a predominately white campus and area, and the possibility that some low-income families don’t have the resources or interest to visit the Duluth campus, which is a 2.5-hour drive from the Twin Cities.


Jordan added that any increase in diversity on campus would be positive.


The UMD admissions office recruits students of color many ways, including working with the Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color. Jordan said the office also makes a strong effort to visit schools in St. Paul, the state’s most diverse public school district.


Crookston’s slow growth


While the University’s Crookston location has seen a 4-percent increase in the number of students of color from 2005 to 2009, the population still sits at 11 percent.


“The best thing to do is to take small achievements and build upon them,” said Andrew Svec, director of communications at Crookston.


Svec said the campus has been working to build a multicultural atmosphere for students since the campus went through a strategic planning session where diversity was set as a core value. Svec added that international students composed 7 percent of the student population last fall, adding to diversity on campus and in the community.


Svec said the campus intentionally recruits students of color by maintaining a relationship with the Minnesota Association of Counselors of Color, sending staff to attend metropolitan school fairs, forming a relationship with the St. Paul school district’s Multicultural Excellence Program and reaching out to the several Minnesota Indian reservations in addition to sending admissions counselors to work with the First Nations in Manitoba.