UT must foster welcoming community to increase black student enrollment

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As of 2014 our school's freshman class reported a racial breakdown of 45 percent white and 23 percent Asian, with American Indian and Pacific Islander making up the smallest percentages. 

Just above that, though, lies the meager black population of approximately 4 percent. Historically, the University denied admission to colored people, yet the door has stood open to undergraduates since 1956.  

Fifty years after the Bloody Sunday events and famous civil rights march in Selma, reflection on the current state of black America is necessary to facilitate progress.  

In the post-civil rights movement age of integration and newfound opportunity, the percentage of black students at UT increased drastically, but it has since peaked and begun to decline.  

The disproportionately low number of black students on campus in comparison to the black population of Texas is alarming and should be examined to further the diversity our school already boasts and to advance the socioeconomic status of black Americans. 

Sources of Fear

Although it it cannot be measured definitively, many students say the primary source of fear for students of color comes from disturbing incidents in social settings, most notably and recently the culturally insensitive Fiji party, which was followed by overwhelming backlash from various students and organizations.  

Unfortunately, events and attitudes like these aren’t isolated — cultural stereotypes are donned quite often at parties. While there lies an issue in itself, the way the University handles happenings like reports of bleach bombs, racist parties and discrimination gives the entire school a negative reputation. No one wants to go somewhere they don’t feel welcome. 

Aerospace engineering freshman Cameron Rose understands the harmful effects that a few students’ actions can have on the demographics of the school.  

“Before I came to UT, I read [the reports of] bleach balloons being thrown at students,” Rose said. “If people are reading about that as they’re applying, it causes a seed of doubt in minority students.”  

Like the bleach bombing incident Rose refers to, the University responded to the more recent Fiji event with nothing but a statement. This lack of action could make minority students feel excluded from the University.  

 Black government senior and Society for Cultural Unity member Bryan Davis has felt this exclusion before.  

"Unfortunately, people are tired and would rather go somewhere where being treated with dignity and respect is the norm (non-predominantly white institutes)," Davis said. 

A secondary source of fear for students of color is a more systematic issue. UT students are accepted through the top 7 percent rule, while a smaller percentage go through the holistic review process.  

For a variety of reasons, the achievement gap specifically between black students and their white counterparts has left black students who go to predominantly white high schools outside the top 7 percent, and they may be persuaded by societal and cultural expectations to find a career in a field without delayed income — often in jobs not requiring a degree. Continuing the cycle, minority students who make up large proportions of lower-income areas receive subpar high school teaching, also lacking guidance and resources to advance to rigorous schools like UT. 

Tuition

Finally, a continuing barrier for prospective black UT students and middle- to lower-class ones alike continues to be funding and fear of debt. The rising cost of tuition paired with a high cost of living in Austin and fear of debt pushes many to go to less expensive schools for a higher education, if they decide to pursue it at all. The cost of living in close proximity to campus pushes many to live in cheaper, less convenient locations, like Riverside, limiting the full experience and advantages a higher education has to offer. 

Solutions

In addition to fighting increased tuition, we should seek out prospective students in disadvantaged areas. Leonard Moore, the University's associate vice president for academic diversity, pioneered a recruiting program beginning this past year to target disadvantaged and low-income students, bringing together outreach centers, recent graduates, the Admissions Office and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.  

"We have outreach and recruitment efforts underway to address both of those issues," Gregory Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement, said in an email. "And even though UT Austin represents an excellent educational value for the money, economic factors are often the reason students decide not to attend UT Austin." 

Rose believes strongly that in addition to the administration's new efforts, current black students should actively recruit high schoolers of color from their own individual cities, acting as ambassadors for the University. Black professionals and students have a responsibility to their communities. Everyone who comes out of a marginalized group or low socioeconomic status ought to serve as a beacon of hope for those like them. 

Moving Forward

If the black community as a whole can benefit from social mobility and the American Dream, fear of discrimination or endless debt must not be an obstacle. The best thing we as students and as an institution can do to foster an environment where everyone feels they have a chance to be accepted and thrive is to be proactive about the image we portray and welcoming in the message we send out.  

By establishing a base of student recruiters and continuing to foster a protective and inclusive environment, the school will inevitably increase its black enrollment.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.