By: Lauren Glass – Contributing Writer
Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in contributing writer Lauren Glass’ series on a university initiative to increase the minority student presence on campus. Glass is a recent UD alumna. This article is published in full on flyernews.com.
In light of the University of Dayton’s new initiatives to attract more African-American freshmen to campus, several students are calling for the university to do more to address racially-based issues on campus.
The students interviewed said the negative experiences African-American students face hinder both the university’s efforts to attract and retain them.
The added challenges African-American students face on UD’s campus is reflected in the school’s gap in graduation rates between African-American student and white student graduation rates at UD, said Lee Sleet, fifth-year electronic communications major and African-American student at UD.
According to the UD Factbook accessed online, the percentage of African-American students who started and graduated from UD within six years has consistently been 15 to 20 percent less than that of white students since 2008.
According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Reports Highlight Disparities in Graduation Rates Among White and Minority Students,” this wide of a gap is endemic of most private non-for-profit universities in the U.S.
Sleet said she has faced challenges at UD because of her race during her time here. She said examples include often feeling as if she is the “token” in class and an instance of having “slurs” shouted at her and her friends while on campus celebrating President Obama’s election in 2008.
Kwynn Townsend Riley, a sophomore journalism major and African-American student, had a similar experience after President Obama’s re-election in 2012.
“After [President Obama] won, my friend, who is also African-American, and I went back into Founders, and I’m just like ‘Yes! Obama won two times,’ and this one girl she had her door open… and as we walked past I heard it behind me, and it was just like ‘Stupid ‘n’ words,’ and then she just slammed her door,” she said.
Regularly facing stereotypes at UD, Townsend Riley said white students sometimes assume she supports Obama based on race as opposed to agreeing with his stance on issues, she listens only to certain music, or that she should speak a certain way based on their expectations of what African-Americans are like.
“I feel like I’m a student and a teacher at the same time,” she said. “Like I have to teach them, I’m here, this is not us, don’t believe the hype, I am not this at all. So when you approach me, approach me respectfully. Approach me originally. Approach me not critically, or already expecting, you know, what you see,” she said.
Townsend Riley said as far as she is aware, the situations she has faced at UD because of her race are typical of other African-American UD students she knows.
Townsend Riley said she is also disappointed in the lack of interest in African-American issues and events on campus, stating it makes her feel underappreciated as an African-American.
She said it appears many sororities and fraternities are supported by the university more than the African-American organizations, and feels marginalized by the general lack of support for celebrations Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the majority of campus, while a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day is a source of major festivities.
She said African-American issues are not reserved for African-Americans only to take action against, and would like to see more student body involvement.
“Everyone should be seeing this as a problem and should be wanting to do something about it,” she said.
Townsend Riley said despite these challenges, she doesn’t regret her choice to come to the UD. She also said she encourages other prospective students to enroll, but wants to prepare them for the challenges they would face.
Joel Carter, a junior international studies major and African-American student, said although there are positive aspects to coming to UD, if he had known before enrolling what his experience being an African- American here would be like, his chances of reconsidering would have been high.
Carter said he has also faced stereotypes during his time at UD, as well as discomfort with being a part of such a small minority on campus.
“If you come to a school like this, you have to expect to be an outcast in some respects compared to other people, because you don’t look like them,” he said, “For black students, how are you supposed to enjoy your time here, you’re going to leave, if you’re not, if you don’t have enough friends, if you don’t feel part of the group.”
Alana McGee, a senior sociology major and white student, said she is concerned with how some white students perpetuate racism on campus without realizing it.
“I hear a lot of black jokes and you know racist connotations that are ‘just jokes among friends’ but that’s actually still perpetuating racism, quiet racism,” she said.
McGee said she thinks the university needs to do more to educate students on campus about race in order to combat this problem, noting that it was only through her sociology classes that she became aware of these issues herself.
Townsend Riley also said the community needs to actively combat these issues through education and interpersonal interactions.
“College is a 24 hour learning experience,” she said. “So it starts in the classroom, it ends in the student neighborhood.”