Reports say UI has room for improvement in diversity
URBANA – The University of Illinois has a ways to go in attracting underrepresented minorities to the Urbana campus, and also toward creating a housing environment friendly to all minority students, two reports from UI researchers said this week.
The Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society issued both of the reports.
According to the first, written by African-American studies Professor Jennifer Hamer and doctoral candidate Victor Perez, the UI has made some progress, but some of the seeming diversity comes not from Illinoisans, or even U.S. students.
It refers to the 2009 Strategic Plan Progress Report.
"The document suggests broad racial ethnic minority participation at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as among faculty. Yet, our review of campus data does not support this public image. What we see is that diversity is increasingly defined by the growing presence of international students," Hamer and Perez write.
The full report is online.
"It's a matter of how we define diversity. To take nothing away from international students, we can't be a leading campus if we are not fully serving all populations,'' Hamer said Thursday.
The report uses the UI's own enrollment data to show that overall enrollment of African-American and Hispanic graduate students rose during the period from 1975 to 2005, with most of the growth occurring between 1985 and 2005
"However, beginning in 2005, growth in enrollment stalled, creating a close to a flat line in enrollment for these students. The only growth that occurred within this time period happened for Asian Pacific Islander students and international students," the report says.
In fall 2009, many graduate programs here reported zero African-American, Hispanic and American Indian students, the report adds.
Hamer said she is encouraged that the report highlights the problems and has been taken seriously by President Michael Hogan and interim Chancellor Robert Easter.
"Clearly this is something they value as leaders," she said. "Leadership has to take a position on this."
Robin Kaler, the chief spokeswoman for the Urbana campus, said: "As a campus we have a strong commitment to diversity in higher education, including graduate education, and we have worked for many years to attract the best and brightest minority students to campus."
She noted initiatives across campus dedicated to bringing excellent minority students to Illinois, citing examples in ACES, Library and Information Science, Engineering, the Summer Research Opportunities Program and the Graduate College Fellows program.
Hamer said the university also needs to work on its image among minority students, saying that the continued presence of Chief Illiniwek was an obstacle for some minority students.
The second report also is online.
Stacy Harwood and and Ruby Mendenhall, UI professors, and research specialist Margaret Browne Huntt wrote "Racial Microaggressions at the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign: Voices of Students of Color Living in University Housing."
Mendenhall, who has appointments in sociology, African-American studies and urban and regional planning, said there are often subtle and not always deliberate slights perceived by minority students in UI housing.
"Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color," according to a definition Mendenhall cited.
The report, based on interviews in 11 focus groups with 82 minority students, came up with examples such as racial slurs written in residence halls, including use of the n-word.
The interviewees also complained about the lack of response by resident directors and resident advisers to incidences after slurs were found on elevators and doors in the residence halls, saying they "minimized these incidents as pranks rather than taking these microassaults more seriously."
In another case, a professor laughed at a racist comment, then condemned the remark, sending a mixed message to students, Mendenhall said.
Minority students handle the situations in different ways, the professor continued, some ignoring the remark or dismissing the person who said it as ignorant, while others consider leaving the university.