University

CMU makes racial inclusion a priority

In the last decade, Central Michigan University’s minority-student enrollment increased steadily, according to diversity statistics compiled by the Office of Institutional Research.

In 2004, the university’s minority students made up 15.4 percent of the population. As of 2012, the population increased to 19.1 percent.

These statistics reflect a change in CMU’s campus culture on student race relations. Aiming to reconcile pas incidents involving nooses and neo-Nazi propaganda, CMU has worked hard to move on from the disturbing time in its recent history.

During a presentation given to Academic Senate in 2008, Kevin Williams, senior associate director of Undergraduate Admissions, said CMU still had a reputation as a “racist institution” among minority groups, and was considered a “white-flight” school among non-minorities for much of its history.

Kevin Williams, senior associate director of Undergraduate Admissions. (Courtesy | CMU)

Kevin Williams, senior associate director of Undergraduate Admissions. (Courtesy | CMU)

In 2005, before a speech by reformed neo-Nazi T.J. Leyden, fliers promoting the National Socialist Movement appeared on the hoods of cars across campus, along with the phrase “This is a free Nazi zone” written on them.

Students ultimately paid little attention to the incident.

Years later, in 2007, four hangman’s nooses were found hanging in a room located in the Engineering and Technology building.

Mike Zeig, a former Student Government Association president, was concerned at the time as to how this incident might affect campus diversity and recruitment.

“I think it is very hard to recruit diverse students if incidents like this happen,” Zeig told Central Michigan Life  for a story originally published Nov. 16, 2007. “I don’t know that there’s a specific action we (SGA) can take, but I think there’s some dialogue we can have.”

Depiction of admission materials 

One way the university has increased its diversity of students is through the admissions materials it sends out to prospective students.

Traci Guinn, interim associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity, said that although her office does not send out informational materials to prospective students, the information sent out does showcase current students of all ethnicities fairly and in real situations

Traci Guinn, interim associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity (Courtesy | CMU)

Traci Guinn, interim associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Diversity (Courtesy | CMU)

“In the publications especially, I know that it is the concern of the admissions office to make sure we do not overpopulate brochures with a larger amount of diversity than what we have,” Guinn said. “So they make sure they are not selling pipe dreams, not selling anything that’s not truthful to the student. They make sure that the pictures reflect what the actual population is.”

Information from the Office of Institutional Research indicated CMU’s total headcount of the student population to be 80.88 percent Caucasian, while 19.12 percent accounted for all other minorities as of the fall 2012 semester.

The Institutional Research also broke down the numbers of the different ethnicities on campus.  The largest minority enrolled on campus was African-American students with 1,092, as of the fall 2012 semester.

Breakdowns for the student population show that 248 Native American students, 277 Asian/Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students, 478 Hispanic/Latino students were enrolled during the 2012 fall semester. A large population of students – 1,263 – made up the unknown ethnicity category, along with 563 students listed as non-resident aliens.

In addition to the domestic diversity levels, the international student population – including Middle-Eastern and Asian students – is increasing every year, Guinn said. Over the last year, 200 more international students enrolled at CMU.

The issue of whether or not brochure materials accurately reflect the actual diversity of a university became a hot topic after a University of Wisconsin student was made aware that her face was digitally added to an admissions booklet in 2000.

The situation attracted national attention, and in 2013, an Augsburg College professor decided to see if any trends came about from promotional images from other universities.

After analyzing 10,000 different images from universities across the country, the professor found that the more Caucasian students enrolled at a university, the more diverse the pictures and promotional materials became.

“When we looked at African-Americans in those schools that were predominantly white, the actual percentage in those campuses was only about 5 percent of the student body,” Tim Pippert, the professor conducting the study, told NPR. “They were photographed at 14.5 percent.”

Putting the past behind us

Student and administration officials alike feel this is not representative of CMU.

West Bloomfield junior Amarriah Valentine received admissions guides from the university upon being accepted. Valentine, a multicultural advisor in Robinson Hall, said the materials do their best to showcase what the ethnic makeup of the campus is.

“I think the ratio of minorities to the white population are as close as they can be,” she said. “To me, their admissions materials are not misleading. It shows you what you’re getting into.”

 

Guinn, named Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity in August 2012, said students may have difficulty interpreting, understanding and comparing the statistics and numbers to what is shown in various materials such as the booklets.

“I don’t think there’s a connection, necessarily, with the pictures and how it’s presented with a number,” she said. “One thousand ninety-two, that sounds like a lot. Now let’s look at the 16,583 caucasian students that are here. That’s a huge number. So I think in comparing those numbers to the actual total population of the campus, and 1,092, it’s a lot, but it’s only really 5 percent.”

As the makeup of CMU’s student population changes, students like junior Troy Woodland said the admissions booklets tell it like it is.

“It’s not too lopsided here,” the Sterling Heights native said. “It’s not like you don’t see any diversity in these pages. If you came here, walking around campus, you’d see the exact same thing or close to what’s in this.”

In the time he’s been at CMU, Kevin Williams said campus diversity has changed for the better since his initial presentation in 2008.

“Absolutely, we’re doing a better job,” Williams said. “This is now an institution that students look to come to from people from communities of color. Those communities are seeing us as their top choices.”

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