U takes a hard line on diversity

The new diversity VP wants to reach out to, add and keep students of color.
Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert presents the University's initiatives to increase diversity to the Board of Regents on Feb. 14 at the McNamara Alumni Center.
February 27, 2014

At the University of Minnesota, about one in six students is a student of color, and only about one in every 27 students is black.

University administrators want to change that.

Over the next three years, the University will review recruitment practices and address campus climate for students of color — and particularly for black students — in an effort to diversify the student body.

After seven months listening to the concerns of faculty, staff and students system-wide, Vice President for Equity and Diversity Katrice Albert announced her diversity initiatives at February’s Board of Regents meeting, starting with increasing the University’s black student population.

“Much is being done, but there’s more work to do,” she said at the meeting. “We want to reframe the discussion about black male achievement here at the U of M.”

Solving this problem, she said, will require increased efforts to attract black students to the University while also creating a more welcoming climate once students are here.

The University has made a handful of efforts to increase black student enrollment in recent years, including partnering with local organizations and creating the Huntley House, a Living Learning Community for African-American men.

However, with recent worries of racial profiling surrounding University crime alerts, some students and employees have expressed concern about the black experience on campus and have said these issues could hamper recruitment efforts.

On the Twin Cities campus, black students made up less than 4 percent of the student population this semester, a number that’s remained fairly stagnant in recent years. Statewide, the black population sat at 5.5 percent in 2012.

Starting early

One organization working to close the Twin Cities achievement gap at all education levels is Generation Next. 

University President Eric Kaler is co-chair of the organization’s leadership council, and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is the executive director.

Rybak said the University’s push to bring in more black male students is key to closing the gap.

“We’re extremely excited about this focus approach from the University,” he said. “The U is the key to creating a pipeline that will take an increasingly diverse population and turn it into an increasingly globally fluent workforce.”

To further amp up the institution’s recruitment efforts, the Office for Equity and Diversity is starting a pilot program this summer that will introduce high school juniors to the University.

“We need to start introducing college much earlier,” Albert said at the regents meeting.

Regent Abdul Omari noted his support for Albert’s plan at the meeting, echoing the need to attract more black students in the area.

“I think we have a lot of opportunities with hometown talent,” he said.

Nursing sophomore Lamin Manjang went to Champlin Park High School and said that the few efforts to recruit juniors and seniors there came too late.

Barflaan Tedoe, a member of the University’s Black Men’s Forum, said he’d like to see even more opportunities for black junior high and high school students to learn about the University so they’re motivated to come there after graduation.

“It should be the destination,” he said.

A widespread issue

Concerns about the University’s small black population reflect a national conversation about the climate of inequality in higher education.

Students at the University of Michigan started a campaign called “Being Black at the University of Michigan” in response to declining enrollment rates of black undergraduates.

The rate fell from 6.2 percent in 2009 to about 4.7 percent in 2013.

“This is a national crisis,” Albert said at the meeting.

She told the regents that although the institution is making great strides to fix the gap, the conversation doesn’t end there.

“We will not claim victory on this overnight,” she said.

Rybak emphasized the importance of the University in resolving the state-wide challenge.

“There’s never been a time when we’ve had more agreement in this community that this is potentially the single largest issue we face,” he said.

The OED will host a discussion about the University’s diversity and equity initiatives for students on the Twin Cities campus March 11. 

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