By Ashley McCallum
Dec. 16, 2016
At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, more than 9,000 undergraduate students identify as Caucasian/ White, almost enough to pack Perkins Stadium. Meanwhile, the amount of students who identify as Native Hawaiian/Native Islander could fit in a four-door sedan.
Currently, the UW-Whitewater undergraduate population consists of 81.83 percent White/Caucasian identifying students. The remaining 18.17 percent is distributed among nine other racial and ethnic identification groups, according to the UWSA Office of Policy Analysis & Research.
In comparison, the UW System is currently comprised of 80.78 percent White/Caucasian identifying students according to the University of Wisconsin System Student Statistics Fall Headcount.
For both the UW System and UW-W, the Hispanic/Latino population is the second largest racial/ethnic group, with 4.96 percent of the UW System population identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 5.71 percent of UW-W identifying as so.
UW-W’s third largest group is students who identify as two or more races, making up 5.14 percent of the population. For the UW System, International identifying students is the third largest group, holding 3.53 percent of the undergraduate population.
A decade of diversity trends
For both UW-W and the UW System, the Fall 2016 enrollment numbers reflect the most diverse student population for each respective institution in the last 10 years, although the large majority of students for both still identify as White/Caucasian.
In the last 10 years, UW-W’s racial and ethnic diversity has shifted, changing from a 89.91 percent White/Caucasian identifying undergraduate population in 2006-2007 to the current 81.83 percent, more than 8 percent difference. The UW System has had a slightly smaller change, from 87.26 percent White/Caucasian identifying in 2006-2007 to the current 80.78 percent, less than 7 percent difference.
At UW-W, undergraduate enrollment has steadily increased for Hispanic/Latino, International and two or more races identifying students over the last ten years – the only three racial/ethnic groups to do so.
Daisy Mata, president of Latinos Unidos, believes the increase in Hispanic/Latino enrollment has a lot to do with the “Latino ambition” to do better for their families and communities and more accessibility to resources.
The African American/Black identifying population steadily increased until 2012-2013, when enrollment numbers decreased from 4.72 percent, to the current 4.24 percent.
The American Indian/Alaskan Native identifying population has steadily decreased since 2006-2007, with a .50 percent population to the current .17 percent. The Southeast Asian identifying population has also steadily decreased with a change from 1.17 percent to .78 percent.
In 2006-2007, there were no students reported who identified as Native American/ Pacific Islander, and again in 2007-2008. The largest enrollment for this group was in 2011-2012, when these students comprised .11 percent of the population, but the population has steadily decreased to its current .04 percent.
Undergraduate students who identify as Other Asian have been increasing since 2011-2012, from .63 percent, to .68 percent. Before 2011-2012, the population was steadily decreasing.
“I don’t think the diversity gap is that hard to close, I really don’t think it’s that difficult, it’s really just a matter of figuring it out and getting the correct resources,” Tiffany Adkins, program coordinator in Multicultural Affairs and Student Success said.
UW-W community speaks out
Soledad Gonzalez, graduate coordinator for Latinos Student Programs, compares the issues regarding racial and ethnic diversity on campus and how the university is addressing these issues, to a neglected glass of water.
“Right now it’s like, you know when you fill a cup in a sink, and you just let it go and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and you don’t pay attention to it and it’s going to overfill,” Gonzalez said. “Then she’s [Chancellor Kopper] not going to know what to about it.”
While Gonzalez and Mata agree that there is likely action being taken “behind the scenes” by the chancellor and administration, it is not made clear to students what that action is.
“We haven’t seen that, as students, that encouragement or that initiative, not just from her [Chancellor Kopper], but from the faculty that are in charge,” Mata said. “There’s still a lot of unawareness of what’s going on on campus.”
In the last year, conversations have been held across campus in order to address campus climate, specifically regarding racial and ethnic diversity. These conversations came more frequently after students spoke up at a Pizza With the Chancellor event in February 2015, stating incidents of racism and hate on campus. This sparked a series of campus climate forums and the formation of the Campus Climate Working Group.
“We, as a community of scholars, educators, professionals, and leaders value the contributions of diverse groups to our colleges, universities, and communities and believe that our conversations on race, gender, sexuality, class and other issues are stronger and more meaningful when more voices are included in such conversations,” said in The Resolution In Support of Campus Diversity and Inclusion, approved by the UW-Whitewater Faculty Senate on Dec. 13, 2016.
In Fall 2016, a series of events, correlated together as the Diversity Forum were held in the University Center.
Gonzalez and Mata commend Black Student Union (BSU) for being “aggressive” and taking the first steps to create conversations on campus, specifically referring to conversations at last year’s Pizza With Chancellor event. They agree that while that is a good start, not enough has been said or done for other minority groups to feel they are included.
“We [Black Student Union] met with the chancellor over the summer to try to get an update on where we were at with the Campus Climate Working Group,” Danny Overstreet, Fall 2016 president of BSU said. “We really didn’t get a solid update from her, which was not the answer we were obviously looking for.”
Overstreet believes that administration should reach out to student organizations in order to best continue working toward a more diverse campus. He said that events ran in correlation with student organizations, as opposed to purely by administration, would be “better received” by the campus community. This idea was brought to administration by BSU, but events have yet to be coordinated.
Despite the nature of these conversations, Overstreet said he has always felt comfortable at UW-W and he finds campus to be a very “friendly” place.
Gonzalez, Mata and Adkins all mention that the university could do a better job “following up” on conversations or plans that have been made in the last year.
“I think that there’s effort there,” Adkins said. “I think that addressing it in various situations, addressing it in various environments, addressing it in different aspects will create a better outcome, meaning ‘let’s not just sit and have one diversity forum or let’s just not sit and have one conversation about the situation, what’s the follow-up?’ I think that there’s an effort there but there’s always a need for improvement. Follow-up is the biggest thing. When we have these things, let’s keep going.”
Crystal Johnson, Native American Cultural Awareness Association president, believes that it was unfortunate timing that the campus climate issues were brought up with the change from Chancellor Emeritus Richard Telfer to Chancellor Beverly Kopper, because tension regarding racial and ethnic diversity on campus existed long before that.
“I think last year really helped bring to light for those classified staff [administration] that there is a problem, and there is more of an effort being made to fix things,” Johnson said. “I like the effort. I like just because that one big incident happened last semester, that it didn’t stop at the end of the semester, it’s still a work in progress, efforts are being made.”
The president of the Southeastern Asian Organization was contacted but was unable to speak before press time.
MASS awareness of resources
Adkins believes that the biggest change that needs to happen in order to improve diversity at UW-W is increasing awareness toward programs, departments and organizations that offer resources to students of varying racial and ethnic identification.
As program coordinator in Multicultural Affairs and Student Success (MASS), she works with programs like Upward Bound, which reaches out to middle and high school students in the Milwaukee and Racine areas and brings them to the UW-W campus, giving them resources to higher education that they may not have had otherwise.
While the programs Adkins coordinates involves a lot of individualized attention with prospective students, she believes a gap occurs once those students take the next step to get into college.
“Bridging the gap between us and admissions, or us and whoever else has a part in enrolling these students, [is necessary],” Adkins said. “We have to understand that not everyone has the same opportunities and not every school is the same, while there should be some type of similar standards, realistically there’s not.”
Adkins would like to see a system implemented where the admissions office can have conversations with MASS and Upward Bound staff that would allow underrepresented students who have the work ethic and drive to succeed in college the chance to be admitted, even if their grades and ACT scores don’t reflect that drive.
If the admissions and MASS staffs can work together to give students who may not fit the bill of the average student admitted to UW-W, the chance to go to college, Adkins believes they can increase diversity, retention and eventually enrollment in graduate courses as well.
Adkins admits that without the resources she received in school from BSU, she would not have been as successful.
Awareness of multicultural student organizations is credited to help increase diversity as well. Mata and Gonzalez aim to create a united, community feeling through Latino Unidos that makes students want to stay.
For Johnson, whose organization works with Native American identifying students, it is important to provide support for students who may be coming off their home reservation for the first time and feel like they may not have anyone like them to relate to.
MASS actions toward retention
MASS’s mission is “to help guide, develop and provide resources for students on academics, personal and professional development to increase their retention and graduation at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.”
The academic network initiatives in MASS were created in effort to accomplish that mission. Initiatives include African American Network, Native American Support Services, Southeast Asian Support Services, Latino Student Programs, McNair Scholars Program and the King/Chávez Program.
John Dominguez, academic network advisor for MASS, says that one way their department helps retain underrepresented students is by giving them the resources to first complete their associate degree, before tackling the coursework of a bachelor’s degree. He says students get “excited” when they know they can get a degree before their bachelor’s, and that it helps motivate them to move forward in their education. Since 2011, more than 350 students have received associate degrees from UW-W, often with the support from MASS.
Dominguez also credits follow-up as one way they are successful in helping their students succeed.
“A lot of times people don’t realize there’s more than just providing the service, there’s the follow-up,” Dominguez said. “For example, I may not hear from a student for two or three weeks, and then I’ll follow up with them by email or call and say ‘how’s it going?’ We may meet with someone in a different area, touch base, say ‘what can we do to help you?’ It reminds them of having someone in their family who cares.”
In his personal experience as a UW-W student, Dominguez admits that he struggled academically, but was he able to turn it around when faculty members believed in him, and provided him the support he needed to to move from academic probation, to eventually working as an advisor in higher education.
In order to become even more successful at helping underrepresented students, Dominguez believes it would be beneficial to have faculty members hired who can be advisors for each of their programs who can relate to students directly based on their past experiences and personal background. Dominguez says that is something he has seen work successfully at other universities.
He believes that advising should not just be telling students what classes to choose, but should also include a personal connection and provide support and encouragement.
“What draws our student is personal experience, personal success and how they can utilize that to their benefits,” Dominguez said.