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Andrew Patra and Alberto Varela talk about what it’s like to be a minority in a town with a
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Racially Diverse Colleges Lead to More Successful Students

By Nina Ryan

As fall approaches and students prepare to begin their lives at the University of Colorado Boulder, students attending Rutgers University, a public school in New Jersey, are doing the same. Incoming undergraduates look forward to football games, late nights and compelling classes. The difference is that CU students are entering an environment that is lacking a key component: racial diversity.

Rutgers University is known for its diverse student body, especially among undergraduate students. Because Rutgers is so diverse, the student body flourishes in many ways that CU’s doesn’t.

According to the Rutgers Office of Diversity and Inclusion, students at Rutgers learn to be “global educators, researchers, students, citizens and partners” through exposure to the whole human experience – working with people of different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds. After four years of this kind of broad interaction, a student is ready to graduate and go into the world with strong experience.

Communicating a similar view, Christopher Pacheco, executive director of the Office of Pre-College Outreach and Engagement (ODECE) at CU, said that “students who are part of a diverse population will do better, not only their academic success with the university, but to be prepared for the world outside of the university. I think it [campus diversity] helps all students to prepare for a more global community.”

Alphonse Keasley sees firsthand the benefits of having racial diversity on college campuses. Having been a student, a faculty and staff member and now an administrator at CU, Keasley speaks from an important point of view.

As the Associate Chancellor in the ODECE, Keasley has been heavily involved in the CU-LEAD Alliance. Through this program, Keasley has seen firsthand the benefits of diverse students interacting with each other.

He explains that “the standard was held both academically as well as socially for the students who were part of the program, [it] made a big difference the way in which our students were able to be successful.”

Students who attend racially diverse colleges and universities have better “learning outcomes” and “democracy outcomes” according to Dr. Jeffrey Milem’s research at the University of Maryland. Learning outcomes are academic skills that students obtain in college and continue to value throughout their lives. Democracy outcomes are the abilities of a student to participate and engage in the diverse society around them. All of these outcomes are said to be “influenced by campus diversity.”

Simply put, students who attend diverse colleges and universities, as opposed to those who attend homogenous ones, are more likely to have better skill sets – leading to greater experiences, opportunities and ultimately success.

Students who attend colleges and universities that lack diversity can end up lacking skill sets crucial to succeeding in the real world.

Pacheco explained that “a non-diverse campus gives you a lack of perspective. If we only take the perspective that we’ve always been presented with as we grow up and aren’t willing to learn about different perspectives from across the country, I think we limit ourselves in how we can do business and how successful we can be in doing that business.”

Keasley similarly makes the point that once students graduate, they’ll enter a bigger world where interaction with people of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds will be key to succeeding in their careers. Keasley stressed that students “have to be prepared to work with people from around the world.”

This issue of racial diversity applies greatly to CU students because of the current state of the Boulder campus. With so little representation of minorities on campus, CU students are faced with a challenge: how does a student at CU get the experience needed to function in the diverse society of the real world?

The simple answer is that they can’t, at least not completely.

Until CU’s campus is truly racially diverse, students won’t have complete access to the global perspective that they need. For all that CU has to offer (engaging classes, insightful professors, endless resources, countless clubs and much more), without racial diversity, students on campus will not be obtaining everything that they should be.

In contrast, at Rutgers University, the diversity programs integrated into student life are endless. By simply visiting the Rutgers University Office of Diversity and Inclusion page online, anyone can easily see the ways in which students can get involved in creating a more diverse student body than the one that already exists.

One of these programs is called Rutgers Future Scholars. This program offers 200 low income, first-generation students the opportunity to attend Rutgers University for four years, tuition free.

By creating this program and others like it, Rutgers has enabled students from many minority backgrounds to pursue higher education and add to the ever increasing diverse student body. The implementations of programs like these are the cause of growth of minorities on campus.

Others believe that it’s not only the responsibility of the administration to promote racial diversity, but also the responsibility of the community.

Christopher Pacheco talks about the idea of the community making an effort to make CU Boulder more diverse. Although he agreed that “increased recruitment efforts [are] always important,” Pacheco said that “we, as educated people from communities of color, have to realize that if we want more diversity we also have to be willing to put ourselves in a position to add to that diversity.”

The importance of racial diversity on college campuses is becoming evident now more than ever. In 2016, 20.5 million students enrolled into American colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Students are going to be “interacting on a global stage,” Keasley said. Until students can graduate knowing the world around them and how to live in it, American colleges and universities have a long way to go.

Infographic by Olivia Miller

What Has Changed?

Photo essay compiled by Alberto Varela