Exploring Diversity and Inclusivity at UIUC: Behind the Numbers

Prospective students tour the Quad
Prospective students tour the Quad

In terms of diversity, the University of Illinois isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

While Illinois claims to be the “the most diverse public university in the Big Ten” on its admissions website, according to statistics found on Forbes.com, the university’s student population, while quite diverse, isn’t as varied as a prospective student would be led to believe.

Reporter Nicholas Fortin looked into the data regarding both racial/ethnic and gender diversity on Big Ten campuses and compiled an informative graphic on his findings. Fortin found that while Illinois is one of the most diverse schools in the conference, it isn’t the most diverse public university in the Big Ten, as it claims to be.

According to data gathered during the 2013-2014 school year and displayed on Forbes.com, Rutgers University is the only Big Ten School with a student population that is less than half white.

Rutgers, with a student body where only 47 percent self-identify as white according to the information on Forbes.com, isn’t the only culturally diverse institution in the Big Ten. According to the same website’s information, the student bodies of Illinois, Northwestern and Maryland all self-report as 56 percent white, the second-lowest percentage in the Big Ten.

The remaining 44 percent of Illinois’ student population is predominately made up of Asian and international students, with both groups registering 14 percent of the population, respectively, according to the data on Forbes.com

On the other end of the diversity spectrum are Wisconsin and Nebraska. Both schools have student populations that are at least 78 percent white according to Forbes.com, with Nebraska topping the list with 81 percent of its students self-identifying as Caucasian.

Fortin attempted to research the diversity of certain Big Ten schools further but the search proved futile as only some of the 14 universities provide statistics on enrollment by race/ethnicity.  In the end, Fortin used Forbes.com as his main source to keep continuity between each university’s figures on diversity.

La Casa Cultural Latina
La Casa Cultural Latina

The University of Illinois has seven cultural houses on its campus. Reporter Logan Bradley visited La Casa Cultural Latina House, the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center and the Native American House to see how diverse our campus really is.

According to the culture section on the University’s admissions page, “Illinois is the most diverse public university in the Big Ten and offers multiple cultural houses, centers, and programs for its students.”

Many of those involved with the cultural houses that Bradley visited wouldn’t fully agree with the aforementioned statement.

“I don’t think it’s diverse, I don’t think it’s integrated,” says graduate student Megan McSwain, one of just thirty-four Native American students on campus according to the Division of Management Information. “I think it’s something that the University might try to boast about, but personally I don’t think it’s diverse.”

Each cultural house’s mission is to be a support and resource center for students of each specific ethnicity, as well as to create an inclusive campus where each group is represented equally. The houses work with the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations to recruit underrepresented student groups and to maintain a diverse learning environment.

While the OIIR helps, support from the University in some areas seems scarce. According to Nadja Robot, who works as an Office Support Associate at La Casa Cultural Latina House, the University doesn’t provide much financial support to the houses. More financial help could go towards renovating the houses, some of which are thirty to forty years old.

While the cultural centers are a major resource on campus for ethnic students, there is still a lack of support from the University as a whole.

Professor Lyubansky speaks on racism at the University
Professor Lyubansky speaks on racism at the University

This lack of support reaches far beyond just the cultural centers. Despite its claim that it is the most diverse public school in the Big Ten, not everyone seems to feel that way. Reporter Jason Chun went out and talked with University students about how they feel about the diversity on campus and whether the University makes it feel as inclusive as they say it is.

“I would say that if the University wanted to be technical, sure you can say that we are a diverse campus for a predominately white institution in having however many minority students and however many international students,” said Subria Whitaker, a junior in communications. “However, we’re still extremely secluded and we’re very separate.”

Diversity isn’t the issue among students on campus, inclusivity is. From what Chun gathered from his interviews, he found that most students don’t deny that the campus is diverse, but that despite its diversity they still feel separate.

“Some parts of campus you see a lot more of a certain cultures, certain ethnicities, compared to others,” said Tom Gibbs, a sophomore in civil engineering who is originally from the U.K.

The University hosts many different programs and events that are intended to create a more inclusive and accepting University. Earlier this April, the National Association of Black Journalists Illinois Chapter held a question and answer style forum on campus to discuss police brutality. Inclusive Illinois, a campus inclusivity initiative, held a discussion in March in which students could voice their concerns regarding diversity on campus to Chancellor Phyllis Wise and other administrators.

However, as much as the University tries to make the campus inclusive through events like these, its efforts don’t satisfy everyone. To some, the University could be, and should be, trying to do more. For Whitaker, if changes aren’t made soon, then the future of the University won’t be as inclusive as it hopes to be.

“I feel like if this keeps going this will probably be a predominately white and international institution.”

For Whitaker and minority students alike, these occurrences of what Professor Stacy Harwood calls ‘racial micro-aggressions’ are far from seldom.

Harwood, an associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois, has been conducting research on racial micro-aggressions on campus since 2007, where she says she has received thousands of stories from minority students during her study.

Among the 8,000 responses received from an online survey during the 2011-2012 academic year, the report found that some of the most common examples of racial-micro-aggressions include hearing racial stereotypes in lecture content, being ignored by the professor during and after class, being called on in the classroom to give a perspective on an issue simply because of their race and experiencing racial jokes amongst peers and teachers.

Professor Harwood talks about diversity on campus
Professor Harwood talks about diversity on campus

“From what we’ve seen, this hasn’t gone away,” said Harwood. “For me, it’s almost getting worse and more prevalent… but maybe if more people realize what’s going on, we can better address it.”

In order for the University to not only be diverse, but also as inclusive as it strives to be, it is essential that they provide a comfortable learning environment for all students inside and out of the classroom.

However, when nearly 4,000 respondents to Harwood’s study say that their race alone causes them to feel uncomfortable on campus locations such as Greek houses (731 respondents), Green Street (402), classrooms and labs (324) and residence halls (299), there is clearly a problem within the institution. Although these students don’t speak for all other students of their ethnic group, they certainly serve as representatives of the trials and tribulations that students of color and other minority ethnicities still face today.

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