Not their parents’ U: Black students find changed attitudes

Amy Hackbarth

It’s 1950, and Donald “Bill” McMoore is sitting at home. Again.

As a black student on the University’s boxing team, McMoore is often left behind when the team attends segregated matches in the South. During these times, McMoore studies for his health and physical education courses and thinks about the University football team, for which he plays halfback.

McMoore is the only black player on the football team. So even when he is able to join his teammates after he rides for hours on a bus over cracked, cold asphalt and straps on his shoulder pads in the locker room, he still has plenty of time to think.

On the sidelines, the wind whips over the neatly manicured grass and around his legs. McMoore doesn’t step onto the field much, for the same reasons he has to stay home on these weekends.

It’s not easy for McMoore, or for the 30 or so other black students he estimates join him at the University.

Approximately 30 years later, Daryl McMoore started attending the University. In his late 20s, the self-described “late bloomer” pursued an individualized studies degree in English and technical writing.

While Daryl said he didn’t experience explicit discrimination because of his race, he said he noticed glances and peculiar subtleties in personal interaction that he attributed to his skin color.

Now a minority recruitment representative in the University Office of Admissions, Daryl finished a master’s degree before completing his education at the University.

Presently, Daryl works with students to ensure they have more opportunities than he and his father were afforded.

Bill and Daryl have seen the University through a broad evolution of policy and culture regarding minorities on campus.

Daryl’s occupation is the fruit of their hardship. He works in the admissions office to increase
on-campus diversity and create a community atmosphere for black students.

In some ways, it seems to be paying off.

Attendance by black students has increased since 1987, when the University began tracking race in its student demographics. The percentage of black students on campus has doubled since 1987, from 2 percent to 4 percent.

University officials say the jump is the result of a conscious effort to increase the number of minority students at the University.

“We feel a special obligation to reflect in our student body the people of Minnesota,” said Wayne Sigler, director of admissions.

Sigler said the University also attempts to recruit black students who lean toward historically black colleges, in order to develop a vibrant community for black students on campus. For Daryl, who sometimes recruits such students, the process is difficult.

“You want to stress to them that there is a community of blacks – albeit small – on campus,” Daryl said.

Organizations such as the African-American Learning Resource Center, which provides academic, financial and cultural assistance to up to 1,000 black University students, and the Africana Student Cultural Center help provide such a community.

“It’s a place for black students to feel comfortable in a predominantly Eurocentric campus,” said Duane Johnson, former Africana chairman.

The University’s reputation and convenient location – not the school’s black community – drew graduate Marcella Jones to campus.

Thirty-two years old and frustrated with 10 years of grinding out a living as a part-time waitress, Jones began studying math at the University in 1989. Eight years later she had received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now teaches at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

While studying, Jones said she noticed looks and subtle gestures that she interpreted as possible discrimination.

“Sometimes I felt like students would already assume that you weren’t someone to ask for help just because of your skin color,” she said.

Daryl and Jones’ experiences with soft discrimination – while not as plainly executed as Bill McMoore’s – are common, said Julie Sweitzer, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Those actions – sideways glances and unchecked comments – validate the continued existence of programs such as affirmative action, she said.

“It is still as necessary as it is in the past, when we had more outright discrimination Ö we still need to pay attention to it,” she said.

Still, second-generation black students and their peers at the University say they are greeted by a more hospitable environment than their parents were.

Evelena Jones, Marcella’s daughter, said she was never discriminated against during her studies at the University. The 2001 graduate said she never noticed the problems that plagued her predecessors.

“Everyone was really nice,” she said. “I never had any problems.”

A half-century after his University experiences, Bill McMoore is pleased with the University’s strides in racial equality.

“I’m glad other kids don’t have to go through what I did,” he said.

He’s also glad they don’t have to sit at home.

Amy Hackbarth welcomes comments at [email protected]