Students rally for increased campus diversity



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Junior Rasheedah Johnson raises her hand during the diversity rally on Friday in front of the Sample Gates. The rally was organized by the IU Diversity Coalition. Haley Ward

Fred Diego spoke into the megaphone facing a group of ecstatic black, brown and white faces in the biting, 46-degree weather.

“How many of your professors look like you?”

Only three students raised their hand.

At 12:45 p.m. Friday three students ­— junior Fred Diego, senior Titilayo Rasaki and junior Leighton Johnson — stood with a few others at the Sample Gates arch. By 1:15 p.m., there were more than 100 students, staff, faculty, community leaders and state legislative representatives alongside the three Diversity Coalition leaders.

They gave students bold, colorful posters to hold up that read, “Broken Dreams, Unfulfilled Promises,” “How do you quantify culture?” and “WWHD — What Would Herman Do?”

Members of Groups Program and Hudson and Holland Scholars led the diversity coalition rally on Friday to call for increased numbers of underrepresented minorities on campus and to fix the infrastructure within the two programs that bring in most of those minorities.

Last year, Rasaki, a Hudson and Holland Scholar, said she decided not to join the diversity rally because she felt the alternative methods had not been exhausted. Rasaki said she believes rallies and protests should be a last resort.

“I believe that in this rally, we’re trying to collaborate because we have mutual interest,” Rasaki said. “We are stakeholders to this University and we want it to be better and multicultural. What we’re trying to do is help to basically make that become meaningful action.”

The IU Diversity Coalition advocates for a healthy, multicultural environment that will promote cross-cultural interactions on campus and protect access to higher education for underrepresented students, as well as integrity in the infrastructure of their programs.

They demand the administration provide Hudson & Holland with an adequate amount of support staff, an advisory board for the Groups Program and a promise to hire and retain non-white and women faculty, among other issues. 

Last year, the rally focused more on the May 2006 promise that the Board of Trustees endorsed in order to double the population of underrepresented minorities on the IU-Bloomington campus by the 2013-2014 school year. A year later, outgoing President Adam Herbert and incoming President Michael McRobbie released a joint statement about a strategic plan for increasing diversity on IU’s campus.

In the years following, the Groups and Hudson & Holland Scholars programs changed drastically, especially in 2010. In that year, the Groups program lost its federal funding and a federal grant renewal of $400,000. Edwin Marshall was named the vice president for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. In the Hudson & Holland Scholars Program funds were cut, retention rates dropped and 5 out of 7 full-time staff departed with only one full-time staff position filled.

Last week, IU Provost Lauren Robel wrote a guest column for the Herald Times about IU’s commitment to the definition of diversity and how critical it was to students’ experiences. Robel wrote about how there has been a $1.9-million-increase to the Hudson & Holland Scholars program which has doubled in its population. She also stated a commitment of $300,000 for study abroad opportunities in the programs.

However, Rasaki said even though they’ve been meeting with administrators for more than a year, sometimes they don’t understand their concerns. Rasaki said she feels the administration is not focusing on the right problems, like how they need more advisers to assist their growth in college.

“It’s the advisers that develop the students into high achieving, excellent students that they are and really make sure that the graduation rates are high, that retention rates are high,” Rasaki said, “If that’s missing, then all you have is money, and money does not always solve everything.”

At the rally, sophomore Jason Gonzalez unzipped his jacket to reveal a Kelley School of Business shirt with a paper attached to it that read “Hudson and Holland Scholars.” Gonzalez said he attended the rally because of IU’s broken promises to increase diversity. 

“I joined the program with promises that students would have full-time access to the resources that a prestige minority program has,” Gonzalez said. “When staff are being cut back and part of the program is being cut back, it seems like IU is not focusing on diversity on campus anymore.”

Gonzalez said he’s noticed some problems in his own school.

“Even in the Kelley School of Business, the lack of interaction that students are able to have with underrepresented students on campus is because of diversity issues,” Gonzalez said, “Really it all stems from how IU is going to define diversity and how we want them to. That’s the point of the rally for us.”

At the diversity coalition rally, Thomas Buhls, a senior, stood among the students holding a sign which said, “Smile, It’s Alright to be White.” He said when people support diversity, they should mean diversity.

“One of the things I see happening a lot of times is that when people think diversity there’s this weird sort of exclusion that happens,” Buhls said. “Some people think that a person can’t be proud to be white or can’t be white without being guilty of being about something. I just don’t buy into that. I’m proud to be white.”

Some IU on Strike supporters at the rally blocked him and held up signs that contradicted his message.
 
Indiana State Representatives and IU alumnae Robin Shackleford and Cherrish Pryordrove down from Indianapolis to speak with and support the students.

Shackleford and Pryor are also a part of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, a political group which promotes policies concerning black social and economical progress.

“There are five members of the Black Caucus that actually graduated from IU-Bloomington,” Pryor said, “So we’re very concerned that the number of minority students is not high as it should be and that the amount of outreach is not the way that it should be. The support services are lacking. The kids are concerned about being here, and that should not be the case.”

Pryor said the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus is currently having meetings and collecting information concerning diversity issues at IU.

“We’re going to have a continuing open dialogue and hopefully add some recommendations to the University on how to better move forward,” Pryor said, “Also, we want to continue to work with the students. I think that the kids put together a list of what they felt was needed, and I think the University needs to know that list and try to do whatever they can to implement it.”

Pryor said she and fellow representative Greg Taylor met with McRobbie and Marshall recently and have expressed their concerns.

“We are compiling a letter and requesting some information from the president, and we’re going to continue to have conversations,” Pryor said. “The Black Caucus needs to be engaged, and the University needs to know that we are watching what happens down here. If they don’t think we’re watching, then we’re going to continue to have issues, and we want to make sure that we don’t have them.”

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