Saturday, May 18, 2013

Diversity at UNH: Is it Increasing or Remaining Stagnant?

Ericka Dupervil, 20, of Boston, Mass., was dumfounded when a little girl, who happened to be Caucasian, noticed her and her friend to be different while in downtown Durham, N.H. The difference – their skin being black.

Dupervil is a junior journalism major at UNH, where she is currently the president of the Black Student Union. Despite her black skin, she is not African American. Dupervil is Haitian American, and her family resides in the outskirts of Boston. Dupervil went to Charlestown High School, and she first came to UNH during Black Family Weekend hosted by the Black Student Union on campus.

During the family weekend, Dupervil saw many different kinds of people and thought the campus was diverse. “So, that put the icing on the cake,” Dupervil said. However, when she started her first semester, things were radically different.

In the spring of 2003, N.H. Supreme Court ruled that race and ethnicity could no longer be an immediate influencing factor in admissions. Last year, however, N.H. legislature prohibited affirmative actions for admissions.

UNH’s Institutional Research Board declares that approximately 2.5 percent of students were non-white in the fall of 1992. Now, ten years, later, that number has jumped to 8 percent. Although UNH is primarily a Caucasian dominated campus, the percentage of minority students has definitely been growing, albeit slowly.

Statistics show projected numbers of white students graduating from high school in N.H. is to decline 28 percent over the next eight years, while minority students will increase to 18 percent.

“I’m not used to being in an environment where there’s so many Caucasians,” Dupervil said. “I’m not used to being a minority. I wasn’t used to walking on campus as the only black person.”

Dupervil had a hard time adjusting to her new surroundings at school, and she wanted to go home. “It was daunting,” she said. “[My roommate and I] lived in Lord Hall and were the only black students in that hall.” Dupervil knew that she was literally the black sheep among a herd of whites. “Everything was just different,” Dupervil said, “I was just not even used to it.”

Dupervil reveals that there is a lot of diversity among student organizations. “People aren’t aware of them, because they’re not supported by the university like fraternities or sororities,” she said. “I think the university needs to make it comfortable for people of color.”

Dupervil said that she originally let her intimidation take the best of her. She was scared, and she thought people judged her. “Being the only black girl in class is kind of good at times, because I can never skip class without getting caught,” she said.

Dupervil believes UNH offered her to be out of her comfort zone. “[It] put me in a situation where I can learn so much more about life and encountering different things,” she said.

Robert McGann, UNH’s Assistant Vice President for Student and Academic Services, and Director of Admissions, asserts that the university as a whole is both concerned and interested to make the community on campus as diverse as possible. “Providing a diverse educational environment is beneficial for all students,” McGann said.

According to McGann, UNH reaches out to different communities across the country to get information about the university. “We try to highlight the support mechanisms that are on campus, like CFAR, and CONNECT,” McGann said.

UNH also tries to provide services to students where they are. “We reach out to Boys and Girls Clubs and to different civic organizations that may serve under representative populations with a particular focus,” McGann said.

Program ambassadors made up of UNH students provide outreach services to underserved populations off campus. They make phone calls, host students for visits, and each staff member in admissions must put together a diversity outreach plan, focusing on specific territories, and partnering with organizations in the community.

“[The programs] are affective,” McGann said, “but there’s a lot of other things that influence the outcome.” As such, cost is a huge factor. The state has eliminated a number of financial aid programs over the years that served many low-income families.

“We’re a public institution, so we have an obligation to ensure accessibility to our campus for all people,” McGann said. “There’s always more we could do as an institution that has to be coordinated at an intuitional level.”

UNH’s statement of diversity expects nothing less than an accessible multicultural community in which civility and respect are fostered, and discrimination and harassment are not tolerated.”

Additionally, UNH Inclusive ensures that under-represented groups and those who experience systematic inequality will have equal opportunities and feel welcome on campus. 

UNH’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, known as OMSA, creates opportunities for students to participate in an inclusive community and to explore and understand diversity, injustice, and equity. Their work is grounded in understanding diversity that includes people of all abilities, ages and ethnicities, genders, nationalities, races, religions and spiritual traditions, socio-economic classes and sexual orientations. 

According to OMSA, the office envisions an inclusive community of learners where there is a shared commitment to social justice and pluralism, thus preparing principled leaders to contribute to an ever-changing diverse society.

 “We provide student support services that are academic, cultural and social,” said Sean McGhee, the OMSA director. Additionally, OMSA has programs that help students understand how diversity works in society as a whole and how identities are constructed by society itself.

According to McGhee, building awareness and knowledge on issues and then developing those skill sets are of vital importance. “We’re not looking at students to be leaders tomorrow,” McGhee said, “we’re looking at students being leaders today.”

Other non-white organizations on campus include the Indian Subcontinent Students’ Association (ISSA), Korean Culture Club (KCC), Native American Cultural Association (NACA), United Asian Coalition (UAC), Black Student Union (BSU), Diversity Support Coalition (DSC), and the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA).

Nina Russem is a senior Recreation Management and Policy major. She is of Native American descent and was born in Antigua Guatemala. “I was adopted from a single mother from Andover, Mass.,” Russem said. 

When Russem was applying to colleges, she knew she wanted to stay in New England, and UNH was the only school with her current major. “After some over nights with friends, I knew that this was the school I wanted to go to,” Russem said.

Russem, who grew up in Portland, Maine, thinks that UNH is different, since she grew up in such a diverse setting. “There were people of all kinds in Portland, and I loved that, because everyone was so accepting,” Russem said. “Even though we were all different, no one got called out on it.”

UNH, however, is not as accepting. “Everyone here on campus is white and people do get called out if they are different,” Russem said. “College is the place to find yourself, but if people are constantly getting judged, then they won’t be themselves.”

Russem believes UNH has made a positive impact on her ethnicity. “I am proud of who I am, and being here and experiencing what I have, I know now that I have to educate people.” Russem asserts she is more willing to educate people about being diverse rather than just automatically being offended.

Russem was initially afraid of coming to UNH, because she knew she would be outnumbered racially. When she got accepted, she found out about a program called CONNECT, which allows non-Caucasian students to come a week early in September and get oriented. “I met people of all races,” Russem said. “This was perfect for me.” 

After attending UNH for four years, Russem has seen changes in diversity, and she is excited to see what will happen in the future. “UNH is far from perfect, but I do believe it is headed in the right direction to becoming a more diverse campus.”

Raya Al-Hashmi is an Arabian American senior majoring in journalism. She noted that mostly everyone conforms to the “European norms” of expressing themselves and their ethnicity during high school. “Here, I feel more support and comfort,” Al-Hashmi said.

Al-Hashmi assumes that actively recruiting high schoolers from more diverse backgrounds and promoting multicultural organizations on campus will help increase UNH’s diversity.

Sandy Xie is a Chinese American student at UNH. Her parents were born in China, and they currently reside in Quincy, Mass.  Xie applied to UNH, because she wanted to be somewhere new. “I just thought the atmosphere and environment were nice,” Xie said. “I think Caucasians do not realize the lack of diversity we have in school, because they are so used to it.” 

Like Dupervil, Xie feels like she stands out in all of her classes, organizations, and everywhere else she goes, because she is different. However, she remains optimistic. “It is nice to share my culture with people that don’t know anything about it,” Xie said.

Xie finds there are so many people on campus that she would not be able to find anywhere else. “I think UNH is slowly getting more diverse,” Xie said. “Other nonwhites would be attracted o UNH because of the atmosphere, and it’s a different kind of environment than their home town.”

Xie reckons that UNH is doing a decent job getting more diversity into the school. “There are a lot of scholarships, organizations, and programs on this campus that advocate more diversity,” Xie said.

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