Briana Akani Examines Diversity on Campus

Bio PicAlthough at the University of Michigan diversity is espoused widely as one of the principles with which the administration is most concerned, the lived experiences of many students on campus tell otherwise. In my own case, I am one of very few Black students on campus. At an institution of over 40,000 students, I more often than not find myself as one of only a handful of Black students in my classes. I am able to see firsthand in my classes the racial disparity in enrollment, both in small seminars and large lecture halls. My racial demographic made up only 4.6 percent of the University’s enrollment in Fall 2014, a steady decline over the years from the 7.6 percent of Black students that were enrolled in 2005. While Asian students at 13.2 percent of the University population have not been underrepresented, other minority groups have been with Native American and Hawaiian students combined making up less than 0.5% of the University population in 2014, and Hispanic/Latino students comprising only around 5% (University of Michigan Office of the Registrar).

With these figures in mind, it becomes evident that, although the administration states the value of students’ diverse backgrounds, there is a disconnect between the concept of diversity and its implementation. Through my research on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) at the National Forum, I have learned that increased diversity on college campuses, for white students in particular, allows for greater racial awareness, an enhanced critical consciousness, and a reduction in resistance to examining oppression (Closson and Henry, 2008). It is not too farfetched to believe that these effects are similar among students of minority groups. In the same vein, studies have found that racial diversity has positive effects on students’ complex and critical thinking, academic self-confidence, and social agency, as well as the importance that they place on taking action in society (Antonio et al., 2004; Laird, 2005). In this case, it seems that the lack of diversity on the University of Michigan’s campus may be depriving its students of critical skills and experiences that should be developed during the college years.

In light of the campus’s lack of racial diversity, President Schlissel has outlined an action plan for the future, which includes the development of campus-wide Strategic Plans for Diversity, diversity initiatives in hiring procedures, and most importantly, partnerships with K-12 schools that serve underrepresented populations (Iseler, 2015). Early recruitment is especially important because of the impact that it will have on students’ college preparedness and awareness of the options that the University has to offer to them. While these steps are definitely ones that need to be taken, I would additionally emphasize the importance of support groups to promote retention of those who may feel lost on a campus on which they feel marginalized. It is possible that with the added input of students in these new diversity initiatives, the University will be able to adjust its policies and become a place where all students can feel welcome and valued.

 

Sources:

Antonio, A. L., Chang, M. J., Hakuta, K., Kenny, D. A., Levin, S., & Milem, J. F. (2004). Effects of racial diversity on complex thinking in college students. Psychological Science, 15(8), 507-510. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00710.x

Closson, R. B., & Henry, W. J. (2008). The social adjustment of undergraduate White students in the minority on an historically Black college campus. Journal of College Student Development, 49(6), 517-534. doi: 10.1353/csd.0.0036

Iseler, J. (2015, Feb. 16). President Schlissel kicks off campuswide effort to improve diversity. The University Record. Retrieved from https://record.umich.edu/articles/president-schlissel-kicks-campuswide-effort-improve-diversity

Laird, T. F. N. (2005). College students’ experiences with diversity and their effects on academic self-confidence, social agency, and disposition toward critical thinking. Research in Higher Education, 46(4), 365-387. doi: 10.1007/s11162-005-2966-1

University of Michigan Office of the Registrar. (2014). Ten year enrollment by ethnicity [Data file]. Retrieved from http://ro.umich.edu/enrollment/ethnicity.php

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