Diversity rises, but social interaction among diverse remains stagnant

Syracuse University has been actively recruiting a more diverse student body, but the campus still faces the issue of getting people of different backgrounds to interact.

Diversity is an issue at Syracuse University. But not in the way most people think.

University officials hold that SU students represent a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. But, they add, the campus’s diversity issues lie in the fact that many students do not interact with those of different backgrounds from themselves.

“As institutions that prepare the future leaders of this country, the demographics itself has to be representative of society as a whole."
Max Patino, director of recruitment and diversity at Newhouse

“We have a very diverse enrolled student body,” said Maurice Harris, dean of undergraduate admissions. “It’s important to understand schools struggle to have the kind... of diversity that we have in our student body.”

The university culls a diverse student body by recruiting in a wide range of areas, Harris said. This year, representatives have visited Latin America, India, the Middle East, Europe and most major metropolitan areas in the United States to recruit new students.

The recruiters' outreach work creates a large application pool. The pool allows SU to enroll a diverse student body, Harris said, and the diversity on campus is only rising.

“In every single school or college we were up this year in terms of applications coming from those groups,” he said. “Every school went up between two and four percent.”

The School of Education’s applications this past year from students of color rose from 29 to 32 percent. The Martin J. Whitman School of Management increased from 28 to 30 percent, and the School of Information Studies grew from 29 to 33 percent.

Meanwhile, the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications each witnessed jumps from 30 to 32 percent in applications from students from underrepresented ethnic and racial backgrounds.

However, it was the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science that had the most applications from students from underrepresented ethnic and racial backgrounds. The school’s applications from students in this category went from 35 to 39 percent.

Thirty-five percent of L.C. Smith’s students are of color, said Jonathan Hoster, an undergraduate recruitment specialist for L.C. Smith. While just 28 percent of its students are women, that is double the national average for an engineering school.

In Newhouse, diversity numbers declined slightly in this year’s freshman class, said Max Patino, director of recruitment and diversity at Newhouse. The students of color dipped from 24 to 19 percent. It’s especially difficult to recruit a diverse student body in a communications school, Patino said, because “students from certain ethnicities aren’t drawn to communications as a first career choice.           

But Newhouse has improved from where it once was. In the early 2000s, only nine percent of the student body was from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. Now, that number sits in the high teens or low twenties, Patino said.

“As institutions that prepare the future leaders of this country, the demographics itself has to be representative of society as a whole,” Patino said. “The media, most importantly, as the communicators and storytellers, need to reflect that.”

And the idea that SU in general suffers from a lack of diversity is a false impression, Patino said. Thirty percent of the student body is from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds, which, Patino said “for a private institution, is a great number.”

SU compares evenly to similar private institutions like Boston University. Thirty-two percent of BU’s undergraduate students are people of color, according to the BU admissions website. That is only two percent more than at SU.

But for all the diversity on campus, SU still has the issue of getting different students to interact. College Prowler, a company that creates guidebooks for top colleges and universities in the United States, describes SU’s issues with diversity.

“Pure numbers and statistics do not determine the true diversity level on a college campus,” College Prowler wrote on its website. “Intermingling between cultures is what’s important. However, Syracuse, like many other ‘diverse’ universities, shows a distinct lack of social interaction between people of different backgrounds.”

Students need to start interacting with others from diverse backgrounds, said James Duah-Agyeman, the director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. It will only help them in the future, he said.

“Learning to work with people of other cultural backgrounds only enhances your chances to succeed in the world,” he said. “So get your practice now because you will not only be working with heterosexual white males.”

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