Column: A case for diversity

Monday’s article, “Officials look to up diversity” (p. 3), was a poignant one. This year the Black Student Union has placed a special focus on the low numbers of incoming black freshmen and what GW can do to keep these numbers from remaining so low. Not long after the Black Student Union was founded in 1968, we instituted the Equal Opportunity Program, which called for a matriculation quota of no less than 100 black students per year. That was more than 20 years ago, and now we have a significant amount of qualified black students applying. Why is it that only 75 black students matriculated in 2003? Minority students are applying and being accepted to this University in greater numbers than ever before, but they are not enrolling for two simple reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is the exorbitant price tag of GW. Overall, black students interested in attending predominantly white private universities are students who are far from poor, but they are by no means rich. This is an escalating problem, not just among black students, but among all middle-class students, who are forced to shoulder a large share of this $41,000 burden in the form of huge loans. This is problematic for a couple of reasons.

The predominant economic background of students here is middle class; hence, these are precisely the students who are taking out the sizeable loans adding to their displeasure with this University. Unhappy students are less likely to get involved in student activities; they will instead find a job to make ends meet. A majority of students here at GW work to pay for or, at the least, supplement their tuition. GW wonders why its endowment is so low and why alumni donations are shriveling up, and graduates are still paying off their student loans. Finally, the price tag scares potential students away who are not aware of the financial aid possibilities GW would afford them. This is because GW, until recently, lacked an aggressive outreach and recruitment program, particularly in the minority community.

Secondly, GW has not, until fairly recently, constituted and supported a powerful outreach mechanism such as the Student Multicultural Admissions Recruitment Team program. This kind of program can only benefit the diversity of the student body, and the BSU will fight to support this program in any way it can. Soon after University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg assumed his position in the late 1980s, the BSU pushed for the creation of what is now the Multicultural Student Services Center. Under this department, a college outreach program called PREP was established to aggressively recruit local minority students. L. Robert Cannaday, who still works for the MSSC today, headed this program, which fostered a sense of unity among a black community whose student body population hovered at 3 percent. Five years after the program was established, the population grew to 8 percent. In 1999, however, the program was cut, and since then, we have seen the minority population, particularly the African American population, shrink with utter disregard by the University.

The SMART program is a bold first step to achieving the numbers that were present just a few years ago. The University needs to place significant administrative and financial support behind this wonderful program, and Assistant Director Tanese Horton, Associate Director Sammie Robinson and the Office of Admissions should be commended for their great work. However, it does not, cannot and will not stop there. GW can no longer give lip service to diversity and increasing the minority population on campus. Moreover, student organizations and concerned students, faculty and staff cannot allow GW to do so.

Diversity, however, is not limited to the racial composition of a student body. We must push forward with meaningful outreach initiatives toward our student body to help us remember the diversity of our faculty, in addition to carefully assessing the diversity of our curriculum in all fields and disciplines. Diversity of all kinds serves as the strength of this great nation of ours and, indeed, this University is no different.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs and political science, is president of the Black Student Union.

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