Proposal for cultivation of ethnic groups on campus

Jimmy Pyles

Dear Editor,

To begin, I would like to commend The Shield for raising awareness of the diversity struggle that USI is currently facing. This is a problem that should be taken on wholeheartedly by this campus’s many offices, organizations, faculty and students.

While I have found a lot of success on campus, … the lack of true ethnic diversity has been a very complex hardship on both my peers and myself. As a 4th year student … holding numerous leadership positions, I have seen many plans laid forth by the University to combat the apparent problem of diversity. … So why has progress been seemingly stagnant?

In our print media that is handed out to prospective students, I have witnessed a very apparent and intentional increase of diversity of students represented within the pages. That is a great step in the right direction – of course we have to make students aware of the many … ethnic groups that make up our community. But what other changes are occuring to increase the recruitment and retention of these students?

Besides the new billboards springing up around the Midwest, … and besides the amazing opportunities that are opening up to international students to come to USI, what is being done within the culture of our community to retain these students? … What is being done to more actively recruit domestic minorities? We must ask these questions because these populations are under-representing the increasing diversity of our region of the country. … What is our campus not doing that has caused a decline of certain ethnic population numbers?

USI is in dire need of the cultural wealth that a campus community can receive from an increase in diversity. The retention of our African-American students in particular (entering my 3rd year presiding over the Black Student Union, I speak from experience) is dismal, to say the least. When I ask students choosing to leave this campus for their reasons for leaving, they state that the culture that is present here is not as accepting of them as they had hoped.

I have sat in strategic diversity planning meetings, … as well as a number of professional meetings on this campus. … While there are many great minds at USI that are knowledgeable about the importance of diversity and how to cultivate it, there are also many that simply are not. The subcultures of African American students and Caucasian students, or between any other combination of ethnicities, are different. That fact needs to be acknowledged and embraced by our community leaders. …  

I challenge all of our leaders to do this:  Instead of assuming that the historical and predominantly white culture that has been present on this campus for decades is the best fit for all students, start giving an honest listen to the needs and wants of your minority students. Participate and truly collaborate with us for our events, bring artists and acts that we actually want to see, and be transparent with us about … our fight for more diversity.

There have been strides toward this objective that I have witnessed – I don’t want to discredit any work done up to this point – but much more progress is needed.

With increased diversity, the cultivation of a richer experience can manifest for the USI community as a whole. The key to true diversity is not changing others to fit into a campus culture – it is continuously transforming the campus culture as more diverse people act within it.

Thank you,
Kurtis Kelley
President of the Black Student Union
An organization of tuition-paying students