At least 56 percent of the GW student body is white, a recent study by the Chronicle of Higher Education found, a higher percentage than GW’s market basket schools.
Although private colleges in the District have similar percentages of white students, schools like New York University and Boston University are 43 percent and 45 percent white, respectively.
The study estimates minorities make up 24 percent of GW’s total population, slightly less than NYU, but slightly more than Georgetown, American and BU. The statistics do not necessarily add up to 100 percent, as each school has a percentage of the student population whose race is unknown.
Senior Sally Nuamah, a co-chair of the Black Student Union, said the study’s findings make sense.
“You notice that you’re in a minority group. That’s clear,” Nuamah said of being an African-American student at GW.
According to the Chronicle, the African-American population at GW is 8 percent, higher than American, Georgetown, NYU or BU. The Black Student Union has 300 dues-paying members this year.
Nuamah sits on University President Steven Knapp’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, which seeks to find ways to make GW a more welcoming place for students of diverse backgrounds.
Nuamah called the initiative launched last February “a great step forward,” but added that efforts to recruit students and professors of color should be expanded.
“As we move toward a more globally changing world, let’s embrace that,” Nuamah said.
Senior Andre Smith, also a co-chair of the BSU, said being a member of the BSU offers African-American students a “familial” atmosphere, but also said the University “could do more” to make minority students feel more comfortable.
School of Media and Public Affairs Postdoctoral Research Fellow Carole Bell, who studied race in film for her Ph.D., emphasized the benefits of classroom diversity.
“Diversity informs and enriches classroom discussion,” she said. “No one wants to be the only one and feel the burden of speaking for their race. No one should have to feel that they must represent an entire group of people in a classroom, and nobody can.”
Bell also stressed the importance of other types of diversity in academic settings, including gender and socioeconomic. She said a lack of any kind of diversity could be detrimental to the learning process, but declined to comment on GW’s statistics.
The Chronicle study found GW’s largest minority group is Asians, which account for 9 percent of all students. One percent of students are American Indian. The report did not account for 12 percent of students whose races were not known.
Co-chair of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion and GW sociology professor Gregory Squires said the CDI aims to “increase inclusion and inclusiveness of GW as a community.”
Squires said students, faculty and staff hold a wide range of opinions about diversity on campus, but said he would like to see that change to “a fairly broad consensus that GW is moving in the right direction.”
He emphasized that perceptions about campus diversity are as important as the statistics.
“We are pretty much in the middle of the pack on most of these measures. If we were 10 percent higher or lower, we’d still be in the middle of the pack,” Squires said.
Dean of Freshmen and fellow co-chair of the diversity council Helen Cannaday Saulny said the University is working to make GW a more diverse place.
“We could be doing better, but we could be doing a lot worse,” she said.
Yet in many ways, race relations at the University have been a problem in recent years.
Since July, two former University Police officers filed complaints that they had been discriminated against by UPD. The men were Indian-American and white, respectively.
Last spring, the University’s former director of planning and assessments, an African-American woman, filed a lawsuit alleging that she was wrongfully terminated after complaining of racial discrimination.
Cannaday Saulny said, however, that Knapp’s diversity council is hoping to eradicate these issues.
“President Knapp is committed to creating and fostering an environment of diversity and inclusion,” Cannaday Saulny said.
Michael Tapscott, Director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, reinforced the importance of having a diverse University experience.
“The future is bright for diversity work at GW,” Tapscott said.