The Collegian
Wednesday, August 04, 2021

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Percentage of Black students at UR decreased in past decade

<p>Graph representing the percentage of Black undergraduate students at UR from 1998-2019. <em>Graphic courtesy of Eric Grollman.&nbsp;</em></p>

Graph representing the percentage of Black undergraduate students at UR from 1998-2019. Graphic courtesy of Eric Grollman. 

A graph created by sociology professor Eric Grollman shows the percentage of Black undergraduate students at the University of Richmond has declined in the past decade, which is also representative of a national downward trend in Black undergraduate enrollment.

At UR, Black undergraduate enrollment peaked at 9.4% in 2011 and 2012, according to Grollman's graphs, and has since fallen to 6.9% in fall 2020. In the U.S. as a whole, Black undergraduate enrollment decreased by 21% between 2010 and 2018, according to The Postsecondary National Policy Institute

Grollman created the graphs in summer 2020 and used data from UR's Fact Books, specifically from the "University-Wide Enrollment by Race/Ethnicities" section, Grollman said. The Collegian was unable to further interview Grollman for this article's publication. 

After the graphs were created, a group of faculty and staff created a plan to talk with members of the community about their concerns about the decrease in undergraduate enrollment for Black students, said Mari Lee Mifsud, who was part of this group. 

Mifsud has worked at UR for 23 years and was part of the undergraduate admissions committee in the early 2000s, through which she has seen the racial and ethnic demographics of UR's enrollment fluctuate, she said. 

The group contacted Stephanie DuPaul, vice president for enrollment management, to discuss the matter, Mifsud said. 

DePaul responded to the group and referred to UR's new No Loan Program with Richmond Public Schools, Mifsud said. The No Loan Program, announced in November 2020, meets the full demonstrated financial need of any RPS graduate who is admitted to UR with grant aid, meaning students will not need to take out loans to cover tuition.

"RPS has a high population of Black/African American students, and we do hope the new program will attract students from across the school district," DuPaul wrote in an email statement to The Collegian. 

Looking ahead, hiring new faculty who have specific training in diversity, equity and inclusion is essential to increasing Black student enrollment, Mifsud said. 

"Our new president needs to raise a ton of money and hire a bunch of new faculty to join us in the excellence we currently have and to fight these national trends, which are really dangerous, of decreasing enrollment of Black students," she said.

UR will have a new president, Kevin Hallock, next academic year.

UR has a core group of faculty and staff who are concerned about low Black student enrollment and who have pushed for an increase in recruiting initiatives for Black students, Mifsud said. 

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"In the early stages of this, 20 years ago, it was a challenge because we didn't have much of a curriculum that was oriented towards issues of diversity, inclusion and equity," Mifsud said. "We do now."

Mifsud said the recruitment of Black students at UR initially increased after curriculum changes about 15 years ago, but then took a turn.

"It started soaring, and then it tanked, and it tanked nationwide," Mifsud said.

Hope Walton, director of the Academic Skills Center, also became aware of Grollman's graphs last summer, she said. She reads applications for both the Richmond and Oliver Hill scholars programs, she said. 

"I think it's incumbent upon all colleges and universities around the country to continuously be trained and updated on things such as implicit bias and micro-aggressions, especially when they're reading and evaluating the applications and what have you," Walton said. "You really need to have a person or persons in your operation that are sensitive to diversity, equity and inclusion." 

Walton started working for UR in 1991. Walton said she had seen improvement in [Black enrollment] on campus in the past decades. But she also pointed to recent incidents, such as racist and xenophobic graffiti on students' door tags in January 2020, as setbacks that might influence prospective students' perception of UR.

"There's a myriad of things that could negatively impact [a university's] ability to yield students when things happen on a given academic year," Walton said.

Departments and divisions at UR have more of a decentralized approach to DEI efforts, so certain divisions, including student development, which Walton is a part of, are doing more than others, she said. 

"Not to say that's a bad approach," Walton said. "Because actually, if you [look] at the last two to three years, there are certainly more divisions and departments that are doing certain things [for diversity, equity and inclusion]." 

Senior Will Walker is currently conducting a survey on how institutions define and contextualize diversity, he said. 

"What you'll find is that lots of folks — what they'll say is that the University of Richmond has diversified significantly from where it was say 10, 15 years ago," Walker said. "And when you look at that data, there is no way to deny that the university has become more diverse. 

"But when you talk about what that diversity looks like, and what that means, you tend to see that the number of people of color has increased, but there's no particular focus on one particular group."

From fall 2011 to fall 2020, the percentage of Hispanic/Latino, Asian and white undergraduate students has all gone up. In fall 2011, the undergraduate student body was 5% Hispanic/Latino, 5.4% Asian, 9.4% Black and 60.4% white, according to the university's 2011-2012 Fact Book. In fall 2020, the undergraduate student body was 10.6% Hispanic/Latino, 6.7% Asian, 6.9% Black and 63.7% white, according to the university's 2020-2021 Fact Book

Mifsud spoke to the gravity of a decreasing percentage of Black students enrolling in higher education on a national scale.

"If we don't figure out how to create equity in our education system for our Black citizens, we are enablers of white supremacy, which is a fundamental threat -- to our moral compass, to society, to democracy, to humanity," she said.

Contact news writer Meredith Moran at meredith.moran@richmond.edu. 

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