Despite taking a 5.1 percent decline in enrollment for fall semester 2014, SCSU continues to see an increase in diversity.
Fall semester 2014, 30 day enrollment numbers show that over the last five years SCSU, has seen an increase in enrollment of students of color by 6.8 percent. This “shift” in demographic of students enrolled can also be seen in national trends.
“SCSU is not alone in the fact that we’re becoming more diverse,” Amber Schultz, assistant provost for undergraduate recruitment and new student transition said. “When we look at the graduating high school seniors, who make up new entering freshman, we can see that the demographic has shifted.”
“The fact that we are a diverse campus and being able to expose students to various perspectives from all over the world…is crucial to help students find their identity here at SCSU, especially for life after college,” Schultz said. “Diversity is a part of who we are.”
Partnered with the Admissions Office and student organizations, Multicultural Student Services has had a role in accommodating to the shifting demographic by helping carry out initiatives and programs, along with providing resources to students for their success at SCSU, Shahzad Ahmad, director of Multicultural Student Services, said.
“We have a comprehensive approach to students’ success that includes academic support, personal and social, for student organizations and leadership development, where we can connect with the students and help them connect to the greater community,” he said.
After students have their first contact with admissions, Multicultural Student Services tries to follow up with students and see their “promise” through to provide these services, and with three office locations on campus, they try to reach out and make services on campus widely available to students.
“We believe what we do has a significant impact on the students’ success,” he continued. “We believe that each and every initiative or program has an impact on students’ success.”
Along with a shifting demographic at SCSU and the initiatives put into play on campus, CARE Director, Debra Leigh, said that “preparing [SCSU] for that shift” has been vital.
“I think it’s great, personally. I’m excited to hear that the numbers and demographic are shifting,” she said. “I think there also needs to be some work done around it.”
Leigh runs the ‘Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative’ (CARE), which aims “to build a lasting anti-racist university and community,” with various specific goals in mind, including ‘promoting a welcoming environment for all races.”
As CARE was starting up, Leigh said that they reviewed the university’s power structure—meaning everything from the university’s mission statements to the food served in Garvey—to see how the university “does business” as a whole.
“We’re clear that one of the things that has to happen, if we’re going to move forward, is that we have to find ways of talking through and disconnecting from practices in our past,” Leigh said. “How do we live into who we say we are as an institution for the future?”
“Just thinking about it as an administrator, as a faculty or anyone who’s providing leadership in the university,” she continued. “What does that mean when the demographic shifts?”
When a shift takes place or when there are issues around race, conflicts can arise depending on how people view the situation, she said. If and when those conflicts occur, she said that it can be dealt with in a constructive way.
“College is a place where people finally have the time, the space and the resources to have those dialogues,” Leigh said.
With the demographic shifting at SCSU, in addition to having the resources and time, faculty must be prepared to facilitate conversations around issues of race and feel comfortable doing so, she said.
Partnered with CARE, Leigh and Darlene St. Clair, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, took part in creating the ‘Anti-Racism Pedagogy Across the Curriculum’ workshop. The workshop’s mission is to create a community of anti-racist educators and to help them understand how race, racism and privilege can affect professional lives and enter the classroom.
“The idea of this is to look at the way we view traditional college education,” St. Clair said. “Standards like lecturing and that the teacher is the holder of the knowledge and the students are the receptors of the knowledge, and that it’s sort of a one-direction thing.”
“We’re looking at ways we can challenge these standards,” she said. Part of challenging these standards is identifying what and how education “supports and upholds race in a negative way.”
St. Clair said that while teaching classes around racial issues or American Indian studies courses at SCSU, she notices that some students have a difficult time talking about the issues.
“Sometimes there’s some real resistance,” she said. “As a teacher, it’s a real challenge to create a situation in the classroom where you can have a meaningful conversation about this.”
Some students coming to SCSU might not be from a place that has high levels of diversity, St. Clair said, and that students have said to her that SCSU is the “most diverse” place they’ve ever been.
In the beginning of the semester, she said that as she walks into class, it’s quiet enough to “hear a pin drop.” Whether that is out of respect or active nerves on the first day, St. Clair would rather hear conversations flying across the room before class.
“My priority is that we create relationships in the classroom,” she said. When there are relationships being built and a sense of “camaraderie” in the classroom, it gives students the opportunity to speak more openly with their peers, which in turn creates a better learning environment, she said.
Along with creating camaraderie among classmates, St. Clair said that ‘decentralizing the authority of the professor’ plays an important role in challenging traditional standards. To do this, professors in turn ask their students to take more control and ownership of what they’re learning, she said.
With goals for the classroom, the overall goal for ‘CARE’ and the ‘Anti-Racism Pedagogy Across the Curriculum’ workshop is to create a community of anti-racist educators and to encourage students to create the same type of community, she said. This not only applies to SCSU, but campuses everywhere.
“If students take advantage of the shift in demographics, in terms of students of color, coming into what has been a traditionally white institution,” Leigh said. “It allows them to the opportunity to learn from people that are coming from different places and to understand their uniqueness in comparison to their own uniqueness, but also to understand their sameness.”
“We always want to go straight to what we have in common, without recognizing that what we all have in common are our differences,” she said. “And this is the place where you can explore that.”