Students, professors feel isolated by race

By Katie Gardner
On May 2, 2014

In 1998, the Black Student Union (BSU) held a sit-in in which it set forth goals that it wanted the University of New Hampshire to reach. The first goal on the list was to have "a black student population of 300 students by the year 2004." In 2014, that goal has still not been reached.

Though UNH has been working to increase diversity on campus, the number of black students is still not where faculty, staff and students wish it would be, and many are feeling the effects.


The Numbers 

Numbers represent undergraduate students only, unless otherwise stated.

At the time of the sit-in, there were 75 black undergraduates attending UNH. Over each consecutive year from 1999 to 2003, the numbers increased, totaling these numbers each year respectively: 75, 92, 98, 119, 142. By 2004, when BSU had hoped to reach 300, the black student population was 141.

That number continued to increase until 2010 when UNH implemented a change in which students were given the ability to identify as "two or more races." This reduced the number of students who identified as black because some students who may have previously identified as black now identified themselves under the new category. The same happened with all minority categories.

In 2009, the year before the change, there were 185 black students. In 2010 there were 161 black students and 281 of two or more races. Spring 2013 data showed a total of 145 black undergraduate students out of a total of 12,042 undergraduates. Including graduate students, there was a total of 170 black students attending UNH out of 14,107 students.

UNH is able to look at which races students choose when identifying as two or more races, which the university said makes the number of black students higher than the data shows. Including students who chose "Black/African American" as one of their races, the total number of black students in 2013 was 281. In 2012 this number was 290. 


Reasons For the Lack of Diversity

One reason offered by many UNH administrators and staff members as to why UNH has never reached its goal of having 300 black students in attendance is the demographics of the area.

According to Sean McGhee, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), while 50 percent of all multicultural students live in-state, the majority of black students come from out of state. McGhee said the number of black students was higher when Pease was still an air force base because it brought more diverse families to the state.

Jessica Fish, the coordinator of race and ethnic studies agreed, and said the demographics have had a negative effect on black students at UNH.

"UNH has an incredibly isolating effect on students of color just due to sheer demographics," Fish said.

Another reason has to do with economics and financial situations. UNH is one of the most expensive state universities in the country. With out-of-state tuition being $26,390 (not including fees or room and board) for the 2013 - 2014 school year and the fact that most black students are from out-of-state, it is hard for many students to afford UNH.

"College-going rates for black Americans is lower than Asian-Americans and white Americans," Robert McGann, director of admissions, said. "Black Americans have a lower average income."

Otis Douce, the multicultural director of OMSA, said the cost holds students back from UNH.

"One of the tough things about recruiting is cost," Douce said. "It's a real barrier not just for black students, but for all out-of-state students."

Douce went on to say that it's tough for UNH to sell itself to black students because of this.

"It's telling kids that they should leave the chance to go to an in-state school to go to an expensive out-of-state school in a rural area with not much diversity," Douce said.


Impact on Students

Senior Alisha Pina, who is the co-chair of BSU and the OMSA "Say What" coordinator, said she often feels other students staring at her and that she has been called "the n-word" before while on campus or in Durham.

"The first time I faced racism was here," said Pina, who is from Boston.

Pina said that if it wasn't for BSU and OMSA, she wouldn't have stayed at UNH. This is something she sees happen with freshmen who decide that UNH isn't diverse enough for them.

"I said to the freshmen, 'Be strong. You're gonna have to face it. You have to fight this,'" Pina said.

Freshman Spencer Littles, a biology major, has experienced what he calls "unintentional racism" and "unintentional prejudice" from white students on campus. He said students sometimes won't talk to him, while other students greet him by saying stereotypical things such as "Whassssup?" 

Littles said he has also experienced this from police officers at UNH who do double-takes or who watch him closely when seeing him at night. 

"The little things add up," Littles said.  "I've seen it drive people away." 

Littles is originally from Los Angeles, but currently resides in Newmarket where he went to middle and high school. He said he is used to being in communities that are not diverse, and that he has learned that UNH is not unique.

"I've realized it's gonna happen no matter where I am. On any campus I would experience some kind of racism," Littles said.

Sophomore Desiree Tribbett of Boston has also experienced racism that she believes isn't intentional.

"I have experienced not blatant racism, but I have experienced racism," Tribbett said.

Senior Aysia Thomas of Boston expressed similar thoughts.

"You feel the pressure. You feel the stares," Thomas said. "The impact [white students] have on us is different from what they intend."

One way the impact is felt is in the classroom, where many black students say they are often the only person of their race. Littles said it can create an uncomfortable learning environment.

"It's frustrating and nerve-wracking to be the only person of color in a room," Littles said. "They put all these stereotypes on you and it puts pressure on you because if you mess up, then it gets put on everyone that looks like you."

Some students said these stereotypes are put on them not only by students, but by professors as well. A common example is when race or civil rights are discussed, black students say white students often look at them and professors ask if they'd like to comment. McGhee said this is unfair.

"Black students are sometimes asked to represent an entire race and it can be a heavy load to carry and an unfair load to carry," McGhee said.

Co-chair of BSU Ericka Dupervil, a senior from Boston who came to UNH in 2009, said her experience at UNH has been "up and down" and that "UNH is not a place for a person of color." She also mentioned that she is often the only black person in her classes.

Dupervil said that while she used to become angry at the ignorance of other students, she has now educated herself so she can address issues of race when they come up. She said her experience at UNH has also helped her understand her identity.

"For me personally, it's been realizing my race; I am the black girl," Dupervil said.

Being "the black girl" has come with many stereotypes for Dupervil. She has been asked if she was on food stamps after her mom dropped off groceries for her and she was asked if she was on welfare after she went on a shopping trip. 

Littles said he often experiences stereotypes because of his biology major. He said he has faced the stereotype that black people can't be smart. He said this is perpetuated by what is seen in the media.

"When you think of a successful black man, you don't think of a doctor or scientist. You think of an entertainer or an athlete," Littles said.

Many black students said they often face the stereotype of people assuming they are only at UNH for athletics. Tim Johnson, a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is an offensive lineman on the UNH football team. He said he is always asked if he's on the team, but he said he doesn't believe that people ask because he is black.

"They look at me. I'm an athlete," Johnson said. "I look at anyone of any race who's my size, and I assume they're an athlete."

Johnson is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 290 pounds, which he says may be a reason why he has not experienced much racism at UNH. He said people don't try to pick fights with him and that he has only experienced racism "on weekends when people are drunk so they feel a little bolder."

Johnson said that sometimes when he walks through town or on campus at night, people cross the road or start to walk faster if he is behind them. He said he is not sure if this is due to his race or his size.

Johnson said he has many white friends, both on and off the football team. He said athletics make him feel included, but he said he has made an effort outside of the team to be included on campus. As a freshman and sophomore, he was president of hall council for his dorm building. 

Johnson said race doesn't come into play for him when interacting with friends on campus and that most of his friends are white.

"I never find myself saying, 'Oh, I wish there was another black kid here,'" Johnson said.

As for the stereotype of black students only being able to be admitted to college because of athletics, Johnson said he has not experienced that. He said many of his teammates hear the stereotype that they were not smart enough to be accepted to UNH.

"I've not received that I'm a dumb black athlete, just that I'm a dumb athlete," Johnson said.

Johnson, who is on a full athletic scholarship, has experienced stereotypes directed at him about the cost of UNH.

"They think the only reason we could afford to go to a school like this is a football scholarship," Johnson said. 


What Students Think About Race at UNH

In the spring of 2013, UNH sent a race climate survey to students through email. Of the 1187 who participated, 1162 students identified their race. There were 679 white students and 87 black students.

When asked if "UNH should make a greater effort to recruit and retain students from racially underrepresented backgrounds," 90 percent of black participants agreed, and 43 percent of white participants agreed.

When asked the same about faculty, 91 percent of black participants agreed, and 43 percent of white participants agreed.

When asked if "UNH encourages free and open discussions about difficult topics that focus on race relations," 42.68 percent of black participants agreed, and 67 percent of white students agreed.

When participants were asked if they "take advantage of the opportunities provided by UNH to learn about racial diversity," 648 white students responded. Thirty-two strongly agreed with the statement, 98 somewhat agreed, and 380 strongly or somewhat disagreed. The remaining number of students responded neutrally.

When participants were asked it they "believe that being able to interact with individuals of racially diverse backgrounds will help me after college," 654 white students responded; 547 agreed with the statement.


What Students Wish Would Change

Dupervil said she wishes more people on campus were educated about issues involving race. She said she feels that this would bridge the gap between students of different races.

"We're not gonna blame [white students] for what your ancestors did, but we will blame you for not wanting to know [about race]," Dupervil said.

Thomas also thinks students should learn more about race. She said she wishes all UNH students were required to take a class about different races or identities, which was also a goal set forth by the BSU in 1998. Currently the English department requires that all majors take a literature class that addresses race, but there is no such general requirement at UNH.

Dupervil said she wishes white students understood more things about black students and the race in general.

"I wish white students knew that we want them to learn and to stop being f***ing scared," Dupervil said.

Dupervil said she also wishes there were more black professors, as she's only had two during her five years at UNH. Another goal made by the BSU in 1998 was that by 2003, UNH would have no fewer than ten black tenure track faculty. In 2012, there were eight.

Littles said UNH could attract more diverse students by promoting diversity organizations more. Johnson said UNH should be advertising in more diverse areas of the country. He said he has lived in many different locations across the country and has always seen commercials for Southern New Hampshire University, but never saw any for UNH.

Thomas said UNH should work on keeping black students at UNH once they're here.

"I feel like it's sad that [the number of black students] is so low, but instead of just getting students of color, they need to focus on retaining students of color," Thomas said.

Thomas also said black students need to do more to help themselves. She said it's important for students to make their time at UNH meaningful and to take advantage of opportunities to make a difference.

"At the end of the day, your experience is what you make it. Complaining doesn't change anything," Thomas said.


How Staff and Administrators are Increasing Diversity at UNH

Fish has many ideas on how UNH can increase diversity and make UNH a more welcoming university. She believes students should have a required race class, that there should be a program addressing race at freshman orientation and that faculty and staff should be required to participate in training that prepares them for handling issues of race. Fish also wants more students to understand "white privilege."

"If we're not lighting the spark that gets students asking questions about the places in which they have privilege, then we're missing a critical opportunity as educators," Fish said.

McGhee agrees.

"To be an educator, you have to be a student of human nature," McGhee said.

While McGhee said that administrators are "giving all students the chance to make UNH their educational home," he said he thinks that more needs to be done for students once they are at UNH.

"We need to create a more global reality at UNH," McGhee said.

Douce said UNH can increase diversity on campus by "re-examining recruiting methods" and highlighting diversity programs, but he also said that he believes UNH isn't as bad as some students might think in terms of racism. 

"I think UNH handles matters of racism better than most schools," Douce said.

Douce also said UNH students are ahead of the country in that respect.

"As a country, we have a hard time with race. We're asking college students to do what we can't do as a country, and they do it better than society as a whole," Douce said.

McGann thinks there should be more diversity on campus because of the benefits it has for students.

"The hope is that by bringing a more diverse student body, it will benefit students academically and culturally," McGann said.

Mark Rubinstein, vice president for student and academic services, agreed and said that UNH is striving to do this. 

"The university has worked hard to become more inclusive and more welcoming for all students, not for the sake of a particular number, but because we recognize the educational benefits of more diverse and varied perspectives in the classroom and across campus," Rubinstein said in an email.

McGann also said the number of black students isn't the most important aspect of diversity on campus.

"Even if we could reach 300, many could argue it's not sufficient," McGann said.

UNH has taken steps to attract more diverse students to the university and no staff member argued that they haven't been trying. President Mark Huddleston is looking to hire someone to assist with this.

"In my recent state of the university address I announced a new step to evaluate diversity and inclusion efforts at the university," Huddleston said in an email. "A search is currently underway for the university's first associate vice president for community, equity and diversity." 

According to McGann, Huddleston and others working in admissions have been reaching out to students in more diverse areas of the state and country. McGann said an initiative has been created in which each member of admissions is responsible for diversity outreach in different geographic areas.

McGann said they have to be careful with this because taking race into consideration in the admissions process could get them in trouble.

"We have to make sure not to focus solely on race and ethnicity because that's against New Hampshire state law," McGann said.

McGann said it has been a "collective effort" and that no one could increase diversity on his or her own. Students recognize this as well. Thomas said she knows that everyone - students, faculty and staff - have to make the effort together so that UNH can attract more black students and be able to keep them at UNH.

"There's only so much I can do, but if we all do it then it can improve," Thomas said. "If you just complain, it'll stay the same."

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