Other students of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds agree the transition to living and going to school at one of the least diverse universities in the country can be a tough transition.
While the school has a number of programs and initiatives to grow that population, some students say it isn’t enough.
NDSU was ranked at the bottom of the U.S. News and World Report’s Campus Ethnic Diversity Index again in 2013. Only Florida A&M, a historically black college and Yeshive University, a Jewish University in New York had less diversity than NDSU.
NDSU’s 2013 Student Demographic Report revealed that 20 percent of the school’s student population is non-white.
Faculty diversity is not much higher, with 80 percent of faculty in 2013 classified as white.
The university has tried to boost its diverse population during the last few years and it has. Diversity increased from 14 percent people of color in attendance in fall 2008 to 20 percent people of color in attendance in fall 2013, according to NDSU compliance reports.
While diversity is low, the climate at the school is generally positive, according to the school’s 2009 Campus Climate Survey. Seventy-eight percent of Campus Climate Survey participants in 2009 revealed they felt comfortable or very comfortable with the climate for diversity at NDSU, down from 82 percent in 2003.
The survey revealed that of minority survey participants 76 percent of students, 69 percent of staff and 64 percent of faculty reported they felt comfortable or very comfortable.
NDSU President Dean Bresciani said in a listserv email that the survey is “…An effort to measure progress towards making North Dakota State University a welcoming and inclusive environment for all people.”
Why diversity is important
Though diversity at NDSU is low, school officials understand the importance of it.
“I believe, and I think as an institution we believe, that diversity enhances everything,” said Kara Gravley-Stack, director of diversity initiatives and the LGBTQ programs. “If every student in the classroom had the exact same background we wouldn’t have rich discussions about…for example, U.S. history or literature.”
She said a lack of diversity could contribute to “tunnel-vision” or “group-think” mentalities.
Gravley-Stack said she is currently working on a dissertation on this topic. She said there is an idea floating around called inclusive excellence — the idea that an institution is only as successful as its underserved population is successful.
Students also recognize the importance of diversity.
A February Tuesday Two email poll revealed 81 percent of 1,558 students surveyed feel the NDSU community values diversity.
For NDSU freshman Gladys Oti-Boateng, NDSU is not the first school she’s attended that has lacked in diversity. She attended college in her home country of Ghana where diversity was also lacking.
“I feel like being in a diverse school eliminates stereotypes,” Oti-Boateng said. “Once we come together, we get to teach each other our values and our morals and learn from each other.”
Graduate student Jennifer Odom shared a similar experience, coming from a historically black college. She said she is learning more about the culture of a predominantly white area.
Fargo native Lexi Vollmer, a Spanish education major at Minnesota State University Moorhead and member of NDSU’s Hispanic Organization of Latin Americans Club, also said diversity is an important way to build understanding amongst different cultures, especially in an area like Fargo-Moorhead.
For some students, the lack of diversity isn’t always apparent before they start attending the school.
“It’s like the biggest lie, because you know when you come and tour here they push, push, push, ‘Oh we’re so diverse’…and then you actually get here and you’re sitting in a 300-person lecture hall and you’re that one person of color,” said junior Chinyere Okwulehie.
Some students said they knew about the diversity issues at NDSU but said the quality programs were the main reason they chose NDSU.
Sinibaldo Romero, who is from Venezuela and the president of NDSU’s Hispanic Organization Latin America Club, said he came for the programs NDSU offered, not the diversity.
What the college is doing
NDSU administration is not ignoring the lack of diversity; there are major efforts to increase diversity on campus.
The school is reaching out to diverse communities by sending admissions staff to high schools in areas like the Twin Cities, Gravley-Stack said. The school is also working to increase faculty and staff diversity as well.
“We recognize an incredible need to diversify our campus,” she said.
She said the NDSU Office of Multicultural Programs also works with admissions to send out information to prospective students of different ethnicities and cultures.
The school is also targeting a larger minority group in the state, Native Americans, Gravley-Stack said. Native Americans make up about six percent of the state population but only one percent of NDSU’s population.
NDSU offers a cultural diversity waiver for students from a culturally diverse group. The waiver significantly reduces tuition costs for students who qualify.
The school started the Bison Bridge program last fall.
The program is geared toward helping first-generation students from diverse backgrounds succeed in college.
NDSU also conducts campus climate surveys, with the most recent one in 2009. The university is currently conducting a new one.
The school and its different departments and campus organizations put on several diversity-centered events during the year.
There is also an Equity and Diversity Student Ambassador program at NDSU to help with recruitment activities and building community among various groups on campus.
Is it enough?
Some students think the school’s diversity efforts are paying off, reflected in the graduate student population, which is 48 percent white, 35 percent people of color and 17 percent not reported.
Jose Rivera, a Puerto Rican graduate student, said the school is doing a good job in his program to attract students from all over the country and globe.
Other students say no.
NDSU graduate student Juan Francocoronado said the school does do a lot of diversity outreach but to very few places.
He said while the school targets students from places like Puerto Rico or Brazil, they do not do a good job of attracting Latinos already living in the United States, such as Mexican-Americans.
North Dakota is one of the least diverse states in the country, with close to 90 percent of the population being white.
That makes it harder for NDSU to draw in students from diverse backgrounds, because they have to go out of the state to find them.
NDSU’s diversity has been better than the state’s, but the school has more obstacles than just demographics.
Weather and geography also play a big part in attracting diverse students to the university, Gravley-Stack said. North Dakota is one of the coldest states in the continental United States.
The nearest large urban city to NDSU is Minneapolis, about four hours away.
Getting the financial and staff resources to recruit from diverse areas is also a challenge that the school is addressing, Gravley-Stack said.
“We’re putting efforts into recruiting students of color; we really want more students of color, more diverse students to come here, and so we are trying to put resources into it,” Gravley- Stack said.
To take this year’s diversity climate survey, visit ndsu.edu/diversity/climatesurvey.