Administrators, students try to draw more minorities

By Tara Kadioglu

In an attempt to address the relatively few number of black students enrolled at the University, students and faculty attended an open forum on Wednesday to discuss issues involving the recruitment of students of color.

The Provost’s Initiative on Minority Issues (PIMI), the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University, and Student Government sponsored the panel event, which was held in Social Sciences 122.

The panel included Michael Behnke, vice president of University relations, dean of College enrollment, and chair of the PIMI Committee on Student Recruitment; Ted O’Neill, dean of College admissions; Andre Phillips, associate director of College admissions; Ann Perry, assistant dean for admissions for the Law School; and Lois Stein, dean of students in the Social Sciences Division.

O’Neill, who has been at the University for 17 years, said that the University successfully recruited minorities in the past. But he added that the recruitment has not always been successful.

Behnke said the number of applications to the College from blacks was “essentially flat.” O’Neill agreed, saying that a significant problem in recruitment was in finding ways to attract black students to the University.

“For some reason this school doesn’t appeal to African-Americans,” O’Neill said. “We can blame a lot of people and point fingers, but we have to remember that we’re not a very popular university.”

According to O’Neill, this year the University implemented a new scheme to raise black enrollment, in which black students in the University phone black high school students who have applied to invite them to fly out to see Chicago.

“The visiting is the main link,” O’Neill said. “It’s the personal touch. We should use alumni more as well. The more people we get involved, the more pop the U of C will get. When the University is more in the public eye, prospective students will realize that this place is not only about studies and that life in general is good here. I have great hope that we are getting to that point.”

Behnke cautioned against changing the personality of the University for the sake of better recruitment. “I love the U of C, but—and I’m going to get in trouble for saying this—it’s not the friendliest of universities. We have some of the best African-American and Hispanic nerds. We’re not the most social and we’re not going to make ourselves what we’re not,” he said.

Other ways of recruiting students of color include offering summer courses taught by University faculty to high school students in the Chicago area.

O’Neill noted that most of the College’s recruitment is now done through e-mail, which has evoked a tremendous response particularly from Latin American students.

He added that less than half of the students in the College were white Americans. “We have a big international contingent now and a diverse community that we’re very proud of,” O’Neill said.

Stein said more students of color were applying to Ph.D. programs in her division. “It’s very encouraging,” she said. “It’s somewhat against expectations as the economy worsens.”

Someone in the audience suggested that the dearth of black and Asian-American faculty members in the Social Sciences and Humanities could deter students in these departments from choosing the University.

Stein responded by saying that while the lack of minority professors in these divisions was a matter of concern, she hopes students who may be an excellent match for a program would not reject the benefits of a “U of C training.”

Lara Perez-Longobardo, a graduate student in Human Development, said she was attending the forum because she wanted to learn more about the University’s efforts towards creating diversity and recruiting minorities.

“Given that we are now 50 years into desegregation and still have such stark inequalities in education, it is particularly important that the students and administration at the U of C [find strategies] to fairly and effectively attract and retain students of color,” she said.