U aims to have diverse campus

Mohamad Elmasry

WThis is the third story in a four-day series about diversity on campus. Thursday’s story will focus on a program in General College for first-year students who speak English as a second language.

When Stephanie Clay walked into her animal science class for the first time as a first-year student, she said, everyone turned around and looked at her as if she didn’t belong.

Clay, who is black and a graduating senior in animal science, said she struggled to be acknowledged as a thought-provoking person in her predominantly white classes. When she answered questions, she was expected to answer on behalf of her entire race, she said.

Clay, who is also president of the historically black sorority Delta Sigma Theta, said the University lacks diversity.

But University officials said the University is highly committed to diversity.

Enhancing diversity in the student body is one of the University’s top priorities, said Wayne Sigler, the Office of Admissions director.

Sigler, who is white, said that the enrollment of minority students at the University has increased 77 percent during the last decade.

“We really believe that enhancing diversity is a compelling University interest,” Sigler said. “We’re the state’s flagship public university, and we have a responsibility to have a student body that reflects a cross-section of the state of Minnesota Ö broadly defined.”

Craig Swan, University vice provost for undergraduate education, said ensuring a diverse student body enriches the “educational experience of all students.”

The University defines diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, geographic origin, gender, and special skills and talents, Sigler said.

Diversity in admission to the University

Admission to the University is based on a set of primary and secondary factors, Sigler said.

Primary factors include academic measures such as successful completion of college preparatory curriculums, high school rank percentile, grade point average, and ACT or SAT scores, according to an overview of recruitment efforts published by the University.

One of several secondary factors is evidence enrollment would enhance the cultural, gender, age, economic, racial or geographic diversity of the student body, according to the document.

“We are increasingly living in a multicultural global society, and we’re trying to prepare our students to thrive in this international global society,” Sigler said.

The University’s first-year student admissions programs have three core objectives, he said. The first objective is to offer admission to students who have the greatest likelihood of academic success.

The second objective is to keep enrollment reasonably in line with resources, Sigler said.

He said the third objective is to admit academically strong and diverse students who represent Minnesota.

Programs

Under the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs, the University has a large number

of programs to enhance diversity, said Swan, who is white. He said there are efforts to recruit minorities to the University and funds targeting ethnic groups.

In addition, Swan said, many University colleges, including the College of Liberal Arts, the Carlson School of Management and the Institute of Technology, have programs that support diversity.

The diversity programs are important for helping students “understand that there is a place for them on campus,” he said. Swan said it’s important that all students feel welcomed and valued on campus.

Patrick Troup, Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence director, said the center has several diversity programs and sponsors numerous multicultural activities, including mentoring and civil engagement activities.

Troup, who is black, said that in addition to recruitment programs, the center maintains academic support programs, a computer lab, multicultural activities, mentoring programs and the Student Excellence in Academics and Multiculturalism program.

Troup said the program brings together 15 to 20 students who take common classes under a theme. The students then build a support network and establish study partners, Troup said.

Swan said the program is designed to ensure students are successful once they’re at the University.

Troup said that in fall 2003, the center launched the American Indian Cultural House. Students live together, take common classes, have weekly meetings and learn from a peer mentor who helps them navigate the University, he said. The University will be launching a Chicano-Latino cultural house in fall, Troup said.

Additionally, the center’s college-bridge programs get high school students to start thinking about college and put “college on their radar screens,” he said.

Students are told about the importance of furthering their education through formal and informal interactions, including presentations, panel discussions and individual meetings.

Questioning the University’s commitment

Clay said the picture of diversity at the University is not as bright as officials lead people to believe.

She said more emphasis should be placed on providing minorities with the added support they need while attending a predominantly white campus.

There needs to be more “follow-through” with minority students, Clay said.

She also said the University’s decision to restructure General College under its new plan for the future shows her “where their priorities really are.”

Undergraduate student Mekdes Mekuria, who is black, said she came to the University because of the emphasis on diversity. But she said she feels out of place walking around on campus and overwhelmed when she walks into class and doesn’t see familiar faces.

Now, in light of the possible restructuring of General College, she questions whether the University considers it a priority to recruit black students.

Film studies senior Miguel Vargas said he believes big changes are coming because of the University’s plan to become a leading research institution.

“(The diversity programs) will have a hard time surviving with the University’s future agenda of being very competitive with the rest of the world,” he said.

Vargas, who is Hispanic, said the restructuring of General College is an indication the University is “not truly investing money into institutions that are rich with diversity.”

Troup said he is “concerned” about the restructuring of General College. He said he is unsure whether many second-language learners and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds will be allowed admission under the new plan.

But Swan said the possible restructuring of General College will not diminish the University’s commitment to diversity. There will continue to be admissions that look like General College admissions, he said. Swan also said there will continue to be students who receive the type of support General College students receive, he said.

Troup said Swan could be correct about the restructuring of General College, but there is nothing in the University’s plan that discusses how the diversity issue will play out.

“I want to see specifics Ö the jury’s still out in my mind,” he said.

First-year human ecology student Lia Yang, who is Hmong, said she feels there is a place for her at the University even though she is a minority student. The University does a good job of accepting diversity and promoting it, she said.

Political science senior Lauren McKay, who is white, said she thinks diversity is important to all students, including white students. She said she supports multicultural programs for minorities as long as white students aren’t excluded.

Sherrie Mazingo, a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the number of University programs geared toward minority students is commendable.

Mazingo, who is black, said people who doubt the University is doing enough should make certain they are “fully aware” of all the University’s efforts to be an inclusive institution.