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The Voice of the Black Community

State & National

HBCUs go beyond traditional student
Recruiting Latinos, whites in greater numbers
 
Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 1:02 pm
by Reginald Stuart, Diverse Issues in Education

When Tennessee State University staged its homecoming parade in October, the parade returned to its roots, going through the main business corridor of the historically black neighborhood connecting three widely known historically black college: TSU, Fisk and Meharry Medical College.

The event also gave hints of TSU’s future. Amid the entourage of school bands from Nashville and across the region, as well as signs touting a new direction for the university, the parade included a float featuring the institution’s first Hispanic student campus organization, FUTURO.

In just a year, FUTURO, which means “future” in Spanish, has helped the TSU community become more comfortable with the university enhancing its appeal beyond blacks.

“It’s nice to be able to show that we, too, have that sense of pride, celebrating that legacy and history,” said Dalila Duarte, 29, a third-year TSU Ph.D. candidate from Chicago. “Now, it’s not why are we here, but how can we collaborate.”

Duarte, an American-born daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, said the atmosphere toward Hispanics has gone from puzzled resentment over their presence to learning how much both cultures have in common. This year, the president of FUTURO is a young black man from Tennessee, a Spanish major who speaks Spanish as well as many Hispanic students.

While many institutions with histories of appealing to niche groups, based on law or tradition, have had open doors for decades, what’s happening recently at TSU and other historically black colleges is new: They are now aggressively pursuing long talked about, yet cautiously embraced, affirmative action and diversity agendas as part of their survival strategy.

Faced with intense competition for their historically “safe pick” of students, HBCUs are becoming more like their non-HBCU peers, campaigning for the nation’s diverse demographics. HBCUs see this strategy as essential to growing enrollment and achieving a level of campus diversity that will make their institutions more appealing and their students competitive in the workforce.

“I think we see across the board HBCUs are diversifying,” said Dr. Kim Bobby, director of the inclusive excellence group at the American Council on Education, the principal umbrella organization of higher education groups. “They are doing a lot of different kinds of outreach.”

Indeed, the fears expressed by those urging caution, particularly older HBCU alumni, are based on a strong body of history. Older alumni say they want progress but not the kind they experienced with the desegregation of elementary and secondary schools. The process essentially decimated black schools, as blacks had little or no political power to help determine how school systems were to be consolidated. In a matter of years, from the 1950s through the 1970s, hundreds of black elementary and secondary schools were shut down and their teachers, principals and other staff largely demoted or fired.

Proponents of pushing the diversity envelope note many of the nation’s black Americans who consider themselves college-ready are increasingly choosing colleges for more than historical reasons. That’s especially true when it comes to those who grew up in the post-segregation era. 

HBCUs have lost their monopoly on black students and, despite continued underfunding in the open market for students, are having to meet the demands to change or disappear.

“We are out there letting people know how inclusive we are and narrowing the gap,” said Dr. Jewell Winn, chief diversity officer at TSU and director of the university’s new Office for Diversity and International Affairs.

Winn and other HBCU officials say, despite what many people think, more progress has been made in the area of diversity. They assert too much of the general public, including many alumni, share an inaccurate perception that there is no diversity at HBCUs and other institutions with a history of targeting a niche group.

North Carolina Central University, one of several state-controlled public HBCUs in the state, is ramping up its hunt for Hispanic students. It has joined Hispanic groups in hosting community events, published its website and scholarship aid information in Spanish and English, and expanded the campaigning of its student ambassadors beyond traditional neighborhoods.

“It’s not a pulling teeth kind of thing,” said NCCU Director of Undergraduate Admissions Anthony Brooks, referring to the efforts at his institution. “We’ve seen a kind of snowball effect over the years, and a lot of recruiters do it on their own.”

Florida A&M University has also made diversity a high priority as the institution looks toward the future. In its 2013 entering class, the law school counts 42.3 percent of its students as African-American, 31.7 percent as Caucasian, 17.6 percent as Hispanic, 2.8 percent as American Indian and 3 percent as Asian. Women make up nearly 60 percent of the class, the university says.

 “A lot of recruitment is not about money,” said Dr. Glen Ones, an alumnus of historically black Alcorn State University and president of Henderson State and a former national president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. “Money is important. But environment is as important. Do (prospective students) feel welcomed? Do they feel supported, included and see that they can grow?”

 

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