Editorial: Diversify race relations talks

Northwestern having its lowest black freshman enrollment since 1995 is a disappointment. Both admissions officers and students are to blame.

In response to low enrollment, the student group Freshman Activities Board, an affiliate of For Members Only, held a rally at the Rock on Monday intent on “burning” the number of black freshman, 81, into student and faculty brains. (“Students rally for diversity,” Oct. 4). The event laid the blame on admissions officers for not doing more.

With black enrollment falling since 1976, admissions officers are aware there is a problem and are creating programs to address it. NU admissions has made positive progress making increased black representation a top priority for 2013, joining existing initiatives and instituting new programs.

Admissions has been proactive in trying to promote the university to minorities. A program beginning in December sending black and Latino students to their high schools to promote NU show the university is being proactive, but will require time to prove whether they are effective. Joining programs like Questbridge, which provides talented minority students with applications and matches them to universities, should help to make a more immediate difference.

As admissions officers try to bring more minority students to campus, it is time for students to play a larger role in improving the racial climate for students once they’ve arrived. More than pressuring admissions officers to do more, organizations like FAB should work to make NU more hospitable to black students and increase true diversity on campus through greater racial integration.

Measuring the level of integration on campus is difficult, if not impossible, but racial divisions on campus remain deep. Comments by a representative at a 2007 forum sponsored by The Daily indicated that minority students arrive on campus to find navigation between various racial communities to be more difficult than expected.

Other representatives said students still tend to group themselves by race and multicultural groups have difficulty reaching out to each other. Events such as Monday’s rally, mostly attended by black students, indicate the difficulty racial groups have in bridging gaps.

That a quarter of black males on campus are athletes further illustrates skewed racial demographics (“NU’s racially skewed rosters,” Jan. 28). Stories in The Daily and letters to the editor also indicate students experience racism in dorms and in the classroom.

By emphasizing a number abstracted from the issues at stake as FAB has done, it is easier to neglect the commitment to creating a welcoming multicultural environment on campus for encouraging students to apply and matriculate at NU.

Rallies and forums should be directed at drawing both the multicultural groups and the rest of the student body. Traditional methods of promotion may not work. Race relations instead rely on attitudes and connections at the personal level.

Groups should look to past efforts, such as Martin Luther King Day events that have succeeded in drawing hundreds of students of different backgrounds.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s planned visit in November will be a pivotal opportunity to draw a more diverse audience to discuss problems of race. After the fervor last spring, students need to follow through and deliver with some real discussion on racial issues.

Admissions officers can bring students to campus, but students need to work to increase communication and integration between racial groups on campus. Rather than FAB separating themselves by painting the number 81 on the

Rock, they might paint the number 2,823, the total number of minority and international students on campus.