UA strives to retain minority students

One November night in 1989, skinheads walked up to five African American women headed back to their dorm from Mama's Pizza.

Then the skinheads yelled "fuckin' niggers."

The women ran home from the parking lot near East University Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, where they were accosted, and called University of Arizona police from Coronado Residence Hall.

That was one of 66 campus racial incidents reported in the fall of 1989.

Since 1989, minority enrollment rates have increased and the number of reported racial incidents on or near campus have dropped dramatically, but minority graduation rates have remained stagnant which some blame on an uncomfortable campus climate.

The university began actively recruiting minority students from Arizona high schools in the mid-1980s after the Arizona Board of Regents requested annual enrollment, recruitment and retention reports in October 1984.

The regents reviewed the cumulative minority rates from all three schools in May. Minority enrollment rate improvements were lauded.

But with the enrollment cap of 35,000 students, the current student population proportions will remain at roughly the current level, said Rick Kroc, student research director. His office keeps track of campus demographics, enrollment and graduation statistics.

Graduation rates to rise

Starting this fall, the three state universities are under new orders from the regents to graduate a larger percentage of minorities 50 percent more within 10 years.

That means the university needs to keep minority students here.

Kroc said the higher graduation rates will be much harder to achieve than enrollment rates because many more factors determine whether students stay in school that are not important to the initial recruiting efforts.

As of 1992, minorities comprised 17.8 percent of the roughly 31,000 total students at the UA. The graduation rate among minorities is 13.8 percent.

Graduation numbers are slowly rising because of the larger number of minorities coming to the university. Graduation rates are based on the percentage of students graduating versus the number enrolled. These numbers remain low for minority students, Kroc said.

The university loses between 45 and 50 percent of all students who enroll. About half of those students leave before their sophomore year. Minority students make up about one-third of the resident incoming freshman class and roughly 12 percent of out-of-state incoming freshman.

About one-third of the student body consists of transfer students, whose retention and graduation rates are not tracked.

To get minority students to stay at the university, there must be a safe atmosphere.

"You can't retain students if they're not feeling particularly safe," said Jesse Hargrove, assistant dean of African American Student Affairs and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. and African American Student centers.

With the emphasis moving from recruitment to retention, the on-campus programs will have to work even harder to make the campus more inviting to the students already attending the UA.

University administrators say they have tried to do that. Minority student centers' budgets have almost tripled since their inception in 1989. UA President Manuel T. Pacheco approved a new paint job and removal of asbestos for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center last year and the African American Student Center got three new computers and printers this summer.

Still, Hargrove said that proposed changes in the undergraduate educational experience under discussion could harm the minority retention efforts of the last five years.

"I've built a structure for them within the existing structure," Hargrove said. "We began to see the results after five years."

Without input from Hargrove and the other minority student assistant deans on the new structure, minority students could lose the programs that enable them to feel comfortable on campus.

In 1989, minority students began demanding cultural resource centers and other services to improve enrollment and graduation rates. African American students staged their first protest in front of the Administration building in April 1989.

Within about one year, the university hired assistant deans of Native American, African American and Hispanic student affairs. Each dean opened a cultural resource center.

The student centers, minority recruitment efforts and a minority representative in the scholarship and early outreach programs were started to get more eligible students onto campus and to try to keep more of them here.

Campus climate needs work

Comfort on campus is one of the biggest things lacking at the UA, many minority students say.

"On this campus, when you get here you feel an us-against-them atmosphere," said Johari Parnell, a marketing senior.

Reuben Morales, also a marketing senior, explained the feeling this way: "How comfortable would one feel if they're the only minority in the class?"

In May, the largest class of African American students ever to graduate from the UA donned caps and gowns. The ceremony was featured in a June issue of Jet magazine.

Still, minority students say the campus atmosphere has not changed much.

"I still encounter the same sort of conflicts that I did as a freshman," said Maricela Trujillo, a creative writing senior who protested against the dismantling of the Office of Minority Student Affairs.

Fall brings


Racial incidents increase in the fall because of the large numbers of new students, Hargrove said. And this year is no different.

"There is a significant amount of reasserting our university values and standards (at the beginning of each school year)," Hargrove said.

Still, racially motivated attacks and comments have never been as prevalent as they were in 1989 and 1990, Hargrove said.

Last weekend, six black women were eating in a local fast food restaurant late at night. They were the only African Americans in the packed dining room. A food fight erupted at a nearby table and a flying ketchup packet hit one of the women in the head.

The women asked the group to stop throwing food their way and for an apology. A UA athlete in the group throwing food responded by saying, "fuck them black bitches."

The situation was resolved privately and both parties requested that they remain anonymous. The incident was not reported to the Dean of Students or UA police.

Students say racial discrimination sometimes discreet and sometimes obvious follows them wherever they go.

"I'm used to being followed in stores," Parnell said. "I expect it."

Fewer complaints filed

So far this year, the Dean of Students office has received no formal complaints about discrimination, said Melissa Vito, dean of students.

"Things don't always get reported here," Vito said. "I know that they exist."

Many people who complain to the dean of students or other offices never follow up their complaint with a formal report, Vito said. For instance, a father's letter to the Residence Hall Association complaining about his son's treatment in the dorms was routed to the dean's office by the association, but an official complaint was never filed.

Many complaints about racially motivated incidents in the fall are related to new roommate situations and students yelling racial slurs at victims who walk by the person's window.

Hargrove keeps a file of complaints about one-foot thick which deals mostly with complaints of unfair grading practices or discrimination in the classroom and tries to work them out privately. However, issues that are not resolved can be filed as official complaints with the Dean of Students office. These formal grievances are not public record because of student privacy policies.

Tracey Craig, who graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in English literature and was with the women confronted by the skinheads, said that during the five years she spent at the UA, the type of racial incidents changed but not the frequency.

"There has been a shift from outside of the classroom to inside the classroom," Craig said.

University administrators began diversity training last year and new sensitivity training programs are in the works. In 1991, UA police attended a sensitivity training session, which all new officers are required to watch. The entire force will attend a refresher course later this month, said Harry Hueston, assistant UA police chief.

Regents order


The original minority goals set by the regents included two aspects: both to increase new minority student enrollment at a compounded rate of 10 percent each year through fall of 1992, compared with 1987 enrollment and to increase by 50 percent the number of minority students receiving baccalaureate degrees in 1993, compared with a three year average of minority student degrees between 1985 and 1988.

A three-year average is used because minority graduation numbers are so small that using only one year's numbers is misleading, Kroc said.

The university raised its minority student population from 11.8 percent of the total student population in 1987 to 17.8 percent in 1993, according to data in the 1993 Minority Student Progress Report presented to the regents.

But the university fell short of its minority enrollment targets for Asian Americans, African Americans and Hispanics each year between 1991 to 1993.

The university came close, however within 3 percent of its enrollment goal for Asian Americans and within 2 percent of the target for Hispanic students.

Enrollment for Native American students exceeded the goal by 123 percent.

Enrollment for African American students fell short of the university goal by 10 percent from fall 1988 to fall 1993.

This year's enrollment numbers are not yet available, said Jerry Lucido, enrollment services assistant vice president.

After students protested the dismantling of the Office of Minority Student Affairs last summer Saundra Lawson Taylor, student affairs vice president, Vito and a graduate student intern in Taylor's office began "US," the first advisory group to the university president consisting solely of students, Taylor said.

The group has been discussing a way to create a new structure for minority students throughout the university to replace OMSA, said Celia Sepulveda, a graduate student who now works in the Dean of Students Office. The dean of students now oversees the cultural resource centers.

"US" acts as a minority student lobbying group to university administrators.

"I think that the administrators have a better relationship with students," Sepulveda said. "At least we have a voice and the voice is going to the right people. This university moves slow, but I think we're making real progress."

Maricela Trujillo, an "US" member, explained the uncomfortable feeling many minorities are experiencing at the UA.

"It (the new minority structure) is still at such a starting point," Trujillo said. "In the meantime, we're just kind of there."

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