Enrollment numbers show USI's struggle with diversity

Jessie Hellmann

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Sophomore Marquita Fears is the only African American student in all of her classes.

“Every class I’m in, I’m the only black person,” said the exercise science, pre-physical therapy major.

 

Fears is one of 496 African American students who attend USI – 4.7 percent of the student population.

 

 

The number of African American students at USI decreased 22 percent for this school year, according to the 2012 fall enrollment numbers released by the Office of Planning and Research (OPRA).

“That’s ridiculous. I don’t even know how (USI) became like that,” Fears said.

The percentages of every ethnic group on campus dropped this year except for the “Asian” category, which increased by 18 students.

Lack of diversity is a problem USI has struggled with for many years.

According to accreditation reports going back to 2002, the university has been scorned for its low diversity levels.

“USI is becoming recognized as much more than a city college; it needs to aspire to a campus society more representative of a broad region of mid-America,” reads the report issued by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities in 2006.

When the report was issued in 2006, seven percent of USI students were in the minority category. Now, six years later, the university’s minority population is at 10.8 percent. The overall minoroity percentage dropped .2 percent this year.

The lack of diversity at USI is something Fears said she noticed since she first came to school here, she said.

“When I first got here as a freshman, I noticed it,” she said. “I feel like (USI’s) mindset is stuck on ‘we want to stay a small school,’ and they don’t want to grow. As time goes (on), things change, and you need to be able to accept the change.” 

Provost Ron Rochon acknowledges that lack of diversity on campus is an issue.

“It’s an area of concern, without question, that we as a campus are going to really sit down and talk about and investigate what other avenues we can take with regard to recruitment,” he said. “Our impact, academic programming, and our successful matriculation for students across race is another piece of that recruitment variable.”

He said he will meet with several campus officials to discuss how to raise diversity numbers.

“I will be looking for possible strategies on how to approach diversity,” he said. “That will be my goal.”

Compared to other Indiana public schools and schools in the GLVC conference, USI has the second highest percentage of Caucasian students at 89 percent. At Northern Kentucky University, 91 percent students identify as Caucasian.

Senior Criminal Justice major Keagon Walker said he noticed as soon as he stepped on the campus how primarily “white” it was.

“When I first came here as a student back in 2008, me and my parents toured the campus, and it was a very shocking experience not seeing anyone around that looked like me,” he said.

He said having lack of diversity on campus can harm minorities scholastically and can keep students from learning about other cultures.

“If I’m in a class with only black people, that’s not good, me as a black male,” he said. “I’m not learning about what about what a white person, or what a hispanic does.”

He said he thinks having a lack of diverse students on campus could actually deter minorities from coming to school at USI because if a minority student comes to tour campus and sees few minorities, he or she may decide to go to another school such as Indiana University, which has a high percentage of minorities.

He’s frustrated. 

“Nobody wants to talk about racial issues. We don’t have anybody going against the grain and fighting for these people,” he said.

He said he wishes for USI to grow by the time he comes back. 

“I would hope that when my time is up here, when come back and walk on campus, within the first 10 minutes, I see someone other than white (people),” he said. “There are some who don’t see a problem with walking around and not seeing someone who looks different from them. They actually like it. I think that’s a problem.”

Director of Admissions Eric Otto said the school has done well with increasing diversity in the last few years.

“Five or 6 years ago, minority numbers were pretty low here, so I think we’ve done a pretty good job of getting the USI message out there to all underrepresented groups,” he said. “But we still want to stay aggressive there because we can still attract good students from all races out there.”

Otto said he thinks the low amount of minorities could be because of the economy.

“We’ve had really good students that were scholarships that turned us down because they just can’t afford it,” he said. “So, if we have a slight increase anywhere, that’s not too bad in this economy.”

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