The University struggles to provide more diversity among students

By Gabbie Capriles

Students often transfer and the administration struggles to bring in more diversity at a school with little socio-economic variety and 70 percent white students.

The University of Richmond, severely lacking in both ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, has a retention rate of 88 percent and a partially unhappy student body. Compared to Boston University, College of William and Mary, George Washington University, University of Virginia, and Wake Forest University, the University of Richmond has the second highest percentage of white students and the lowest retention rate, according tro

Wake Forest has 82 percent white students, making it the only other school from the list above with a higher percentage. The rest of the schools had a white-student percentage in the high 50s or low 60s. All of the colleges listed above have a retention rate between 91 percent and 97 percent, compared to the University of Richmond's 88 percent.

Many students at the University recognize the lack of diversity, but don't have adequate resources to change the problem.

But, the Westhampton College Government Association decided to make diversity the theme for this year. Jess Ruzic, the class president of the Westhampton College Class of 2010, said that diversity was an important part of campus and the students and administration recognized it and were working on it this year.

"We explore different avenues in terms of how we can bring in more diversity or bring the diversity that there is into light," she said. For example, the WCGA is trying to put more diversity into the CORE course.

Although the CORE faculty thinks that it is good as it is and it fulfills its intended aims, the students perceive a lack of diversity in the selected works and are pushing to increase the diversity, she said.

The WCGA is also looking into aspect of socio-economic diversity, she said. It is attempting to make textbooks more affordable because they are such a financial drain, she said.

"It's an ongoing project and concern," she said. "We need to look deeper into each of the areas to see what everyone can do."

The University of Richmond website has its own section for diversity, called Diversity in Action. Here the administration tells prospective and current students, "At Richmond, we foster a culture of diversity and open dialogue in which every voice is represented and in which everyone is able to maximize his or her potential while maintaining their individuality."

The Diversity in Action page has a link to another page, which further defines Richmond's definition of diversity. The website reads: "No matter who you are, where you come from or what you believe, you’ll find an environment at Richmond that values diversity in all of its forms–ethnic, socio-economic, geographic, sexual orientation, political, religious and others."

Also included on the diversity website are links to services and programs on campus that support diversity. These services include the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Common Ground, the University Chaplaincy, and the Office of International Education.

The Student Development Division has a mission statement that states, "€¦Foster personal development among students in an environment that champions diversity€¦." Also, one of the division's objectives is to "Respect the importance of inclusive diversity in the implementation of all Student Development services and initiatives."

Steve Bisese, the vice president for student development and former dean for Richmond College, said that he did not think that there was a lot of prejudice on campus, but that there was more bonding among people of color, which made them stand out as separate.

There is a big problem with economic diversity because there are people here with a lot of financial aid and people with none and even though the students with a lot of financial aid are able to attend the school, they can't afford everything that the wealthier students can, he said. There is a pre-orientation that is open to anyone but focused on people of color and an international orientation, both of which students find helpful and enjoy, he said.

But even with these resources, some students still are not optimistic about the campus' diversity. Some choose to stay at the university and find their own diversity, while other students transfer. Senior Leslie Gleue said that although she noticed the lack of diversity at the University of Richmond, she met a lot of international students, became friends with minority students and had a good experience with other backgrounds.

A first-year student, Karen DeBonis is considering transferring. "It's basically the lack of diversity here," she said. "Not the lack of, but the scarcity of €˜real people.' When I went to visit the University of Mary Washington, I was in the dining hall and I saw a kid with tattoos all up both arms. There's no one at UR like this."

She defined real people as people with self-expression, those who did not feel it necessary to adhere to a certain code of what was fashionable and appropriate to wear, but instead made their own rules.

Another first-year student, Gracie Aghapour, is transferring at the end of this year to the College of Charleston. Although part of her decision to transfer was homesickness, she also noticed the lack of diversity on campus.

Charleston is a bigger school and will, by default, have more diversity, along with better departments for environmental science and art, both of which are subjects she is interested in.

When describing a personal experience with the lack of diversity on campus, she said that in the beginning of year she felt extraordinarily Asian.

"I've never seen myself as anything before," she said. Coming from an extremely diverse Charleston, S.C. high school, Aghapour said she encountered ignorant and bigoted statements on the UR campus.

Another student, Laura Caruso transferred out of Richmond after her first semester. "I feel the student body as a whole lacks cohesion and unity," she said in her transfer application. "The campus is divided into many cliques (by Greek affiliation, sports teams, race, etc.). Unfortunately, few of these groups mingle or befriend others."

Caruso, who is home this semester, hopes to transfer to either Bucknell University or Gettysburg College. "Both campuses seemed more down-to-earth and had a more visible minority population," she said.

Diana Mergiotti of Langhorne, Pa., also transferred after her first year at the University of Richmond. "My distaste for the snobby student body and the fact that the school was so tiny led me back home," she said.

She transferred to Villanova University and said she was much happier there. "Being here [at Villanova] is more like being part of a unique and increasingly diverse family and less like being in a small pool of overly competitive people who all look and act exactly the same," she said.

Another student, Toba Hellerstein, left Richmond because it was too expensive. After she left the University, she took a year off to learn Arabic and live in various countries such as Morocco, Syria and the West Bank, she said.

Next year she will attend the City University of New York: Hunter College both because it is less expensive and because there is an extremely diverse student body. "This is not to speak simply of ethnicity, social class or religion," she said. "Other considerations include age. I love the fact that I can take International Relations 306 with a single mother and a graybearded man going through a midlife crisis."

At the University of Richmond, she said the lack of diversity both amused and bothered her. When asked if she noticed the lack of diversity, she said, "In every sense except the remarkable variety of pastels."

Although a number of students transfer, those who study abroad at Richmond experience ample diversity.

For example, Virginia Bunker, a senior, traveled to Ghana, Africa, her junior year. She chose to go to Ghana because her boyfriend at T. C. Williams High School was from Ghana and she had always heard that it was a beautiful and friendly country.

She said that she learned many different things non-academically while studying abroad. "There are life lessons–being able to function outside of your comfort zone," she said. "I learned to appreciate things that people take for granted. It reaffirmed my passion for Africa."

Some 60 percent of UR students go abroad, which brings back more awareness of diversity, Bisese said.

On campus, Bunker said she noticed a big lack of ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. At her high school, there was much ethnic diversity and she was the minority as a white person. She said that coming to the University of Richmond was shocking and she almost transferred because of it.

"I went through extreme culture shock," she said. "I went from being the minority to being the majority." But she didn't transfer because she had nowhere else to go.

This summer Bunker is traveling through Africa to do volunteer work, she said. Next academic year, she will be a substitute teacher and help coach her high school track team, she said.

Sasha Parr, who graduated from the University of Richmond last year, is currently working as a paralegal in Intellectual Property Law in Washington, D.C. She said that she saw much more diversity in the workworld than during college.

"I have to say that the people I've met since graduation and the people I currently work with are a lot different than the people I met at UR," she said.

"I have met people from a wider variety of backgrounds and with different sorts of experiences.

"Not to say that this is for better of for worse, but by way of example one of my coworkers left college early because she became pregnant. She raised her daughter, who is now 13, as a single mother and now works full time and is finishing her degree. I had definitely never met anyone at Richmond with any sort of experience like that.

"Between my job and meeting people in my building, I've come to see myself as a sort of minority–the fact that I was raised by both my parents who then were able to pay for at least part of my college education before setting out on my own is not exactly the norm that I had considered it to be back at UR."

Parr attended a New England prep school that was incredibly diverse, she said. A fundraiser that was popular at her high school was a "dragdance," where students paid $3 and went dressed in drag, she said.

Her sophomore year, she suggested the same thing to the on-campus group, New Directions, but the attendees consisted mostly of their own members and several students were harassed on their way to the event for dressing in drag, she said. "Not exactly the most welcoming campus ever," she said.

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