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Do numbers accurately portray race?


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By Samantha Schmidt




When DeLeon Lott and Shelbi Williams came to IU, they left behind a city that was 85 percent African American.

Leaving Gary meant leaving a community of students who looked just like them.

In the crowded classrooms at West Side High School, college was a privilege that often went undiscussed.

Although they were honors students, no one from IU recruited Lott and Williams. Their counselors never mentioned the scholarships available for minority students or the Groups transition program for low-income freshmen.

But Lott and Williams did their research. With the help of their older sisters, who were already students at IU, the two girls applied.

After completing the Groups program, the friends chose different homes in different settings. Lott joined the Atkins Living Learning Community to surround herself with an African American environment like the one back in Gary. Williams decided not to. She wanted a chance to experience a fresh, diverse lifestyle.

Neither realized how small IU’s African American population would feel.

They are part of a group that feels underrepresented on campus, Shelbi said, and members of a demographic at IU that has flat lined since 1975.

They are African American.

They are the four percent.

Breaking down the four percent

Since last spring, students have voiced concerns about a lack of diversity at IU, an issue they call “the four percent.”

On the Bloomington campus, the percentage of African American students has remained at four percent, fluctuating occasionally since 1975, according to official enrollment reports.

Spring 2013 enrollment figures present a student body composed of 3.9 percent Hispanic or Latino, 4.0 percent African American and 4.0 percent Asian American.

Vice Provost David Johnson assures that the similarity in these numbers is purely coincidental. The issue is the Hispanic or Latino and Asian populations are growing while the African American population is not.

For Lott and Williams, these figures mean unfulfilled promises.

In May 2006, the Board of Trustees endorsed a plan to double minority enrollment by fall 2013. At the time, minorities made up 10.2 percent of the Bloomington student population.

With the deadline nearing, the University is far from meeting its goal. This semester, the student population is composed of 14.4 percent minority students, students who identify as Hispanic, African American, Asian American, American Indian, Pacific Islander, or two or more races.

The board continues to aim for the goal of doubling minority enrollment, William Cast, chair of the Board of Trustees, said. But as they analyze each year’s reports, board members realize it is next to impossible to accomplish the goal by next year.

Junior Leighton Johnson, a vocal advocate on the issue, said he feels as though the board has given up on its promise.  

“The University clearly stated it was their agenda, it was their desire, it was their promise to do something,” Johnson said. “If you say you’re going to do something, you should do it.”

For many minority students like Leighton, these historical statistics illustrate a lack of diversity on campus. But for IU researchers and administrators, there is more to minority representation than the numbers say.

Is it possible to evaluate campus diversity solely from statistics?

Who is the four percent?

Race redefined

Incoming students answer two demographic questions when enrolling at IU.

Question 1: What is your ethnicity?

The student is given the option of checking whether they are A. Hispanic or Latino or B. Not Hispanic or Latino.

Question 2: What is your race?

The student must then self-identify from one or more racial categories: white, black or African American, Asian American, American Indian or Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

These federally mandated questions have been used to collect enrollment data since 2010, said Todd Schmitz, executive director of University Institutional Research and Reporting.

With these changes, anyone who selects an ethnicity of Hispanic or Latino is automatically categorized as Hispanic or Latino, even if they selected additional races.

“It trumps everything else,” Schmitz said. “Prior to 2010, we didn’t have that. Hispanic was just one of seven categories.”

Non-Hispanic students who select more than one race are automatically placed within a “two or more races” category, he said.  

The category changes have caused the multi-race and Hispanic percentages to increase substantially. The changes have also made it impossible to compare ethnicity enrollment figures before and after 2010, Schmitz said.

The new system has thrown students like junior Christian Parroco into an identity crisis.

Parroco is 50 percent Filipino, 25 percent Puerto Rican and 25 percent African American.

“I probably identify the most with black,” Parroco said. “It’s the easiest to tell people because it’s the easiest to see.”

Parroco considers himself African American, and his most dominant ethnicity is Filipino. But when it comes to enrollment, he is categorized as Hispanic or Latino.

“If there is one race I definitely don’t identify with, it’s probably Hispanic,” Parroco said. “I don’t think it’s representative of what we actually are. It’s a part of what shapes us, but it can’t be summed up in a quick sentence that people like to hear.”

On a more diverse campus in a more diverse world, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to group minority populations. More and more students are identifying with multiple races, skewing any attempt at tracking progress based on narrow racial and ethnic definitions.

Although there might be growth in multi-racial African American students, the percentage of students who identify solely as African American has plateaued, law professor Kevin Brown said.    

“We’re basically never going to get more than four percent,” Brown said. “But to talk about the four percent is to harken to a concept of race that no longer applies.”

The four percent is stagnant, but there might be more African American students on campus than what the four percent reveals. Understanding IU’s diversity challenge means analyzing the breakdown of the black student population.

In 2011, African American student racial affiliation was broken down beyond official categories. Although there were 1,776 students enrolled as “African American” on campus, 374 additional students reported that they identified with being African American. These students could be enrolled as Hispanic or Latino, International, or two or more races.

Brown said it’s proven that multi-racial students perform better on the SAT and ACT tests, aiding a shift in the student body from African American students to multiracial students.

“You’re watching a turnover going on,” Brown said. “The black kids are being dealt out of this.”

As a first generation college student, Lott said she noticed the disadvantages her peers faced in Gary.

“It starts at home, at the schools, with our parents,” Lott said. “We don’t have the drive. We hear it a couple of times at school but that’s very different than someone who grows up with a college fund.”

Choosing from a select few

Measuring the progress of diversity on campus is a complicated task.

Recruiting minority students is equally challenging.  

David Johnson said the university faces a limited pool of admissible minority applicants in the state.

Much like IU, Indiana high schools are graduating a stagnant percentage of African Americans. A report by the Interstate Commission for Higher Education predicts that the number of black non-Hispanic public graduates in Indiana will remain about the same through 2028, and Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates will continue to increase.

Indiana is overwhelmingly white. There are a limited number of minority students graduating high school, and among them, only a small fraction are competitive enough to be accepted to IU, David Johnson said.  

“10 percent of high school graduating seniors are African Americans in the state of Indiana,” David Johnson said. “They’re not all admissible to Indiana University. We are not an open-door institution.”

Lott and Williams came from a predominantly African American high school, but the majority of their peers lacked the grades and test scores to get into IU. DeLeon said only about nine students came to IU, and most of them were in the honors program.

Office of Admissions Senior Associate Director Mary Tourner said IU works hard to be competitive with Indiana private schools such as Butler University, who often have the ability to offer additional funding and programs.

“In Indiana it is pure competition,” Tourner said

Leighton Johnson acknowledged that in-state diversity is limited, but said the university should not take this as an excuse. IU should reach out to minority students in urban areas outside of the state, he said.   

“It’s more than just Indiana,” Leighton Johnson said. “We need to go beyond Indiana to get these students.”

Despite the lack of African American students in Indiana, IU admits a higher percentage of its minority students from Indiana than from other state. This fall semester, 5.9 percent of in-state students were African American, compared to 2.9 percent of out-of state students, according to University Institutional Research and Reporting.  

Vice Provost Johnson said this year, the Office of Admissions has begun new efforts to recruit minority students from other states, like the Hoosier Hospitality program. This spring, admissions representatives will invite minority admitted students in the New York and Chicago areas to have brunch with admissions officials in their own town.

But if an out-of-state student can’t afford out-of-state tuition, recruitment isn’t enough.

Brown said he thinks the University is unwilling to provide the large scholarships necessary to draw out-of-state minority students. He said it is financially logical to recruit international students, a visibly important focus for President Michael McRobbie.

“If you’re scrambling for money, the question is often, should I give scholarship money to an inner-city kid who may or may not graduate and who probably won’t in the long run make as much money as this student from China?” Brown said.

It all comes down to the money.

Beyond black and white

For five years, Williams has been “the black girl” in class, the one who is always called on to answer questions about race, she said.

She said she no longer wants to be one of only five black students in a 200-person lecture hall.

Lott said she is tired of walking around campus and not seeing students who look like her.

“We dedicate four, five years of our lives here,” Lott said. “This is our world. I should feel like I have some say, some impact. I should be taken care of.”

For Lott to have her voice heard, students need to be a part of the discussion, Leighton Johnson said. This requires working with the administration, not against them.

Last spring, Leighton Johnson approached Edwin Marshall, Vice President of Diversty, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, about creating a student diversity advisory board.

The group includes student leaders from the Hudson and Holland, the Scholarship Advisory Committee and IU Student Association. Tourner has also worked with the group, providing thoughts on behalf of the Office of Admissions.

“We need to make a coalition of students so we don’t have to advocate or create a stir to make our voices heard,” Leighton Johnson said.

The group has met with Marshall to discuss pressing concerns with diversity on the Bloomington campus. They address the issue of the four percent. They talk about what they believe is a lack of funding and staffing for minority scholarship programs, such as Hudson and Holland.

Most importantly, Leighton Johnson said, they want to create a campus that reflects an evolving world, a campus where every student learns in an environment that cultivates creativity, challenges assumptions and fosters diverse perspectives.

“The whole demographic of America is changing,” he said. “If Indiana doesn’t change with it, then they’re going to be left behind.”

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