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Delving into diversity

Students, faculty stress need for increased ethnic diversity at MU

By Sarah Emery, For The Miami Student

While the photographs in recruitment literature sent to high school seniors and the Miami University website may lead potential students to believe a high degree of diversity awaits them at Miami, the reality is only 12.8 percent of current first-year students identify as ethnically diverse, not including international students.

Even though the number of minority students has been steadily increasing over the past decade, there is still much work to be done.

According to Yvania Garcia-Pusateri, the assistant director and coordinator of Diverse Student Development, disadvantages still exist for minority students throughout the admissions process.

In order to encourage more diversity at Miami, Garcia-Pusateri recommended admissions officers place a larger focus on inner city recruitment and encouraged Miami to increase the amount of need-based financial aid.

"When Miami says to a student that the Bridges program could get him or her $10,000 in aid over four years, when Ohio State and University of Cincinnati are offering full or half tuition to minority students, Miami is putting itself at a disadvantage in terms of need-based aid," Donnell Wiggins, former Assistant Director of Urban Outreach and Recruitment said.

While at Miami, Wiggins worked to foster personal relationships with urban students, which he felt helped encourage many high school seniors to attend Miami.

Wiggins cited a lack of need-based aid and resources as a major reason why many urban and minority students choose not to attend Miami.

In recent years, Miami has switched to a merit-based system, rather than a need-based system. According to the Annual ACT Score Report, the average composite score for African Americans was 17.0, while Caucasian students had an average score of 22.3. Since merit aid at Miami only goes to students with an ACT score of 26 or higher, minority students are at a disadvantage for financial aid.

Both Garcia-Pusateri and Wiggins emphasized the need to increase the amount of programming available to multicultural students once they arrive on campus.

Although the Bridges program is successful in bringing students to campus, and opportunities such as the "Made At Miami" pre-semester program are helpful for adjustment during move-in, there is a lack of inclusion opportunities throughout the academic year.

Wiggins said the Office of Diversity Affairs is crucial in creating programming, but it cannot be the only group making students think about diversity on campus.

"Everybody must be invested in this issue, from the top down," Wiggins said. "We want there to be inclusion along with the diversity. Once we get the students on campus, we need to make sure that the they feel welcome."

He said he believes there must be certain support systems in place, from academic advisers to teachers connecting with students, to ensure students from diverse backgrounds feel accepted once on campus.

"Diversity also needs to exist in faculty and staff around campus," Wiggins said. "It's important for students to see individuals on campus that they may be able to relate to."

First-year students Connor Pavon and Erika Lee agreed. Although neither listed Miami's lack of diversity as an important factor in their decision-making process when applying to colleges, both said they have become more aware of the lack of diversity on campus throughout their first semester.

Pavon said he sometimes feels intimidated at the pure volume of Caucasian students at Miami and the lack of domestically diverse students.

Although the Code of Love and Honor and the University Statement Asserting Respect for Human Diversity stress the value and importance of acceptance and diversity in a Miami education, many students and faculty members feel this goal has not been accomplished.

"Miami prides itself on a liberal arts education where students are able to recognize and understand other cultures outside of their own and be able to think… a diverse campus allows students to not only retain academic information and history, but also experience different cultures," President of Miami Ambassadors Creating Change Patrick Bender said.

Bender, a senior, works to maintain a successful environment for underrepresented students before and after they arrive on campus, but feels there is more work to be done.

Similarly, Wiggins believes a diverse campus culture where undergraduates can interact with people from many different backgrounds helps students better prepare for a global world.

In fall 2013, only 14 percent of undergraduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors were minority students.

Senior Taylor Wicks, the president of the National Society of Black Engineers, is working to increase the exposure of STEM fields to African American high school students who might lack the resources teenagers at higher-income schools have.

According to Wicks, the earlier students learn about the field of engineering and the benefits of a Miami education, the more likely the number of minority students involved in STEM will increase.

"Sometimes it seems as if everyone at Miami looks, dresses and acts exactly the same," Lee said, "[but] joining clubs, such as the Korean American Student Association and the Asian American Association, have helped me meet people from around campus who do come from diverse backgrounds."

She said she believes the effort should be made to increase diversity awareness so every student will feel like he or she belongs at Miami.

Increasing domestic diversity is an issue that cannot merely be talked about by a few faculty members and students, Pavon said. He feels it must be a mission the entire Miami community embraces.

Pavon and his roommate, Henry Carnes, host high school seniors in their room through the Bridges program, and both encourage Miami students to volunteer for this unique opportunity.

Garcia-Pusateri encouraged students of any race to become active in promoting an accepting and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their background.

"Administration needs to start understanding that apps like Yik Yak are real and that the people posting on the app are Miami students and represent the Miami community," Garcia-Pusateri said. "We need to look at social media and its impact on student life … when something negative does happen, how do we respond? Do we walk away or speak out?"