MU scrutinizes campus diversity and minority-student retention

Seventy percent of all students at MU in fall 2014 were white.
MU students attend a biology lecture Monday, March 9, 2015, at Anheuser-Busch Natural Resources Building in Columbia, Mo.

As dialogue over race relations and diversity on campus re-intensifies, some students say a major point of contention is the makeup of the student body itself.

Senior Mauria Tomlin said while she believes MU does have some racial diversity, it has a long way to go before it’s diverse enough to be comfortable.

“I’m still the only African-American girl in my class sometimes,” Tomlin said.

Director of Admissions Chuck May said minority enrollment has grown at MU over the past 10 years.

In fall 2014, white students accounted for about 70 percent of all students at MU, according to MU’s Institutional Research enrollment data. Since 2010, though, there has been about a 38 percent increase in all non-white, ethnic students, compared to a 5 percent increase of white, non-Hispanic students.

“We are delighted with the significant increase in student diversity that has occurred on campus for the last decade and we are always open to new strategies to enable us to enhance our efforts,” May said.

Guo Xiaoyu, chairman of the MU Chinese Students and Scholars Association and a doctoral student, said he believes MU has achieved much in diversity. Through various events and activities MUCSSA puts on, Xiaoyu said students on campus are introduced to Chinese culture.

“Our culture events … enrich the diversity of the campus,” Xiaoyu said.

Assumptions are often made about minorities, Tomlin said. She said this is one of the reasons she sometimes feels uncomfortable at MU.

“I feel as if I’m always speaking for my race, especially for the fact that I’m on this ‘natural hair movement,’ as they call it,” Tomlin said. “I’m African American, and I’m a woman. I get kind of looked at and judged about certain things, because they have an expectation in their head … that I’m supposed to be some type of radical person and I’m always supposed to speak about black power.”

Tomlin said the Gaines/Oldham Black Cultural Center embodies the idea that minorities don’t have to be alone. She finds it to be a safe space where she spends a significant amount of time.

Tomlin, however, said the focus should not be on the number of minority students enrolled but the number of minority students who graduate. She had seven close girl friends her freshman year, and only one still attended MU by her sophomore year, she said.

“Diversity is great, but retention is better,” Tomlin said. “Yeah, we could admit more people and enroll more people that look like me into the university, but how many are staying? How many are graduating?”

MU junior Young Kwon is the co-chairwoman of Four Front Minority Student Leaders Council. She said the group has been speaking with the admissions office to increase diverse student recruitment. However, she said she believes inclusion is the more important topic of conversation.

“There’s going to be a minority in any situation,” Kwon said. “But being inclusive and helping them into the group or helping them foster their academic or professional goals on this university — I think that’s more important.”

Multicultural Center Coordinator Stephanie Hernandez Rivera said through various events, the Multicultural Center helps enhance diversity and inclusion on campus.

“If you’re somebody of (a minoritized) identity, it can feel hard to find your place and you can feel isolated,” Hernandez Rivera said. “Having a space like the Multicultural Center that promotes and supports identity exploration for all people is really important.”

According to the MU Equity Office's website: “Diversity of ideas makes this institution, and the knowledge we create through research and disseminate through teaching, better and more vigorous … Therefore, in order to make this institution better and more academically vigorous, men and women with various racial-ethnic backgrounds … need to be actively sought through the faculty hiring process.”

Tomlin also said having more racially diverse faculty members, including professors, members on the Board of Curators and deans would help minorities feel more comfortable attending MU.

“So many African-American people go to (historically black colleges and universities) because people there who are teaching their curriculum are, one, very well educated, and look like them,” Tomlin said. “That’s just human nature. You want to be around people who make you feel comfortable.”

Nearly 72 percent of all tenured or tenure-track faculty members were white in fall 2014, according to MU’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning’s statistics.

However, there has been a 5.5 percent decrease in white faculty members and a 4.4 percent increase in non-White ethnic members since fall 2012.

“Differences are a part of life,” Tomlin said. “It’s never going to be the same. So why not encounter them now, while you can still kind of morph your ideas of life?”

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