Campus, News — April 7, 2014 at 12:00 am

Campus Grapples With Low Diversity

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FingerPrintWhen Kefa Mbogo arrived in Fargo in the fall to attend NDSU, it was a bit of a cul­ture shock for the black freshman from the Twin Cities.

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.

Culture shock

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.

Diversity Obstacles

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.

WHITNEY STRAMER | THE SPECTRUM

WHITNEY STRAMER | THE SPECTRUM

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