Where are all the Black students at UMass?

With a population of over 20,000 students enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a little over 800 of those undergraduate students identify as Black/African American.

With such a low turnout of black students on campus, representatives such as Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, are making an effort to increase the population of diversity on campus. By focusing on underrepresented, low income, and first generation students, Chancellor Subbaswamy, is increasing community scholarships for instate underrepresented students.

Subbaswamy’s announcement of the Diversity Strategic Planning Committee, which was enacted following several incidents in which racial hate slurs were scrawled on the dormitory doors of two students of color. After an emergency meeting was declared to discuss the slurs and its impact on the community, the Chancellor’s Diversity Advisory Council (CDAC) was formed, comprising of faculty, professional staff, department chairs and more.

Sid Ferreira, Director of Enrollment Services and Instructional Support, is a member of CDAC. Ferreira works hard to ensure that UMass is as diverse as possible. In addition to working with students on campus, his job is also to make their presence more evident.

“I am part of the group that tries to bring some information to the chancellor so that when we do the strategic plan, hopefully all of the voices from every aspect of campus are included,” said Ferreira.

Oscar Collins, Interim Co-Director at the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, has similar responsibility, in which he seeks to ensure access to opportunity for the underrepresented students.

“The diversity of this campus, especially in underrepresented or marginalized populations has decreased historically,” said Collins.

But the lack of diversity does not end with students. Among staff, the numbers of Black/African American individuals is only in the double digits. On UMass’s faculty, which consists of “personnel with faculty rank, including faculty with administrative duties, and visiting and part-time faculty,” only 69 individuals identify as being Black or African American. Among the professional staff at UMass, which includes executive, administrative, managerial and professional personnel, as well as academic deans, only 71 individuals identify as Black or African American.

Amilicar Shabazz, a professor in the Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass, spoke on his own experience as a black student attending university and the impact that black faculty can have on black student’s success.

“I owe a great deal of my having earned my BA, MA, and PhD to the presence of black faculty who looked like me and shared many common ethnically-rooted experiences. Not “presence” in the abstract, but to specific, real, and tangible connections some of these faculty made with me that was very beneficial.”

According to a March 2015 article in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the overall diversity of students of Asian and Hispanic descent has shown significant growth since 1974, whereas those of Black/African descent has shown a slow and almost stagnant growth.

The underwhelming presence of Black students on campus is quite obvious for many students, including Savanna Brown, a freshman Accounting major, from Brockton, MA.

“With how diverse my city is, it doesn’t make sense that a university like this would be represented like this,” Brown said.

Brockton is one of the many ethnically and culturally diverse cities in Massachusetts, however, Massachusetts as a whole is not very diverse, or representative of the Black population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, which in 2013, reported that individuals that identify as Black/African-American represent 8 percent of the Massachusetts population and 13 percent of the United States population, whereas the students at UMass represent only 4 percent of the student body population.

“We don’t even represent the racial/ethnic diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and I think its the responsibility of the system to improve the experience of underrepresented students as well as the majority.” said Collins.
The topic of race is one that is quite complex, in definition and in understanding its construction. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin” report, which was issued in 2011, race and ethnicity are concepts, by which individuals are free to choose how they identify.

Though it is ultimately up to one’s interpretation of their identity, the bureau has provided standard guidelines to identify as Black or African-American, are as follows, “ refers to a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa. This includes people who indicated their race(s) as “Black, African Am., or Negro” or reported entries such as African American, Kenyan, Nigerian, or Haitian.”

Ferreira added the importance of not only recruiting students who identify as Black/African-American, but also, “retaining them, and then it’s graduating them,” he said.

“A happy student is a happy alumni. A happy alumni, not only can contribute back to the school, they can contribute in more ways than just financially.,” he added.

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