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SMC expresses intent to diversify campus

Megan O'Neil | Friday, December 2, 2005

Saint Mary’s President for Enrollment Management Daniel Meyer said he is committed to diversifying not only the College’s student body, but also it’s faculty and staff, at a Student Diversity Board (SDB) forum Thursday.

“The effort to diversify at this campus is going to be ongoing, and it is going to be from here on out. … We are going to change,” he said.

Meyer was one of four speakers, including SDB president Amanda Shropshire, coordinator of Women’s Studies Astrid Henry and director of Resident Life Michelle Russell, to offer his perspective on how a more diverse atmosphere can contribute to the College’s excellence.

“Frankly, you can come to Saint Mary’s with very unhealthy attitudes about diversity, and in the fours years here [never have those attitudes challenged],” he said.

Meyer said with increased diversity comes greater sensitivity. Further, the term “liberal arts” is Latin for “liberating the mind.”

“There is no better way to do that than to expose you to different view points,” he said.

As Henry approached the podium, she asked those present to look around and examine the people in attendance.

“I think we see a lot more faces of color tonight than if we were pulling the entire school,” she said.

Henry said she had hoped to see more white faces, and suggested the makeup of the group indicated something about the importance of diversity among many white students at the College.

The ethnic breakdown of the Saint Mary’s student body is 91.4 percent white, 3.4 percent Latina, 0.8 percent black, 2.81 percent Asian, 0.5 percent Native American and 0.7 percent international, Henry said.

Henry offered national ethnic statistics from the most recent federal census, which reported the country’s population breakdown as 69 percent white, 12.1 percent black, 12.5 percent Hispanic, 3.6 percent Asian, 0.7 percent American Indian and 1.6 percent biracial.

She predicted that by 2050, there will be no majority race in the United States and said it is already a fact in several states and major cities.

“We live in a country that is racially diverse,” Henry said. “I think we do our students a disservice if we do not prepare them for living in that environment.”

Meyer said Saint Mary’s will face serious consequences if it does not address major demographic changes in the United States’ high school population. Estimates show that by 2015, there will be a demographic swing of 3.5 million high school graduates, with two million fewer white students and 1.5 additional minority students.

If Saint Mary’s sticks to its traditional white roots, its recruiting pool will shrink, he said.

“We need to be very serious and very committed to diversity or we need to face the reality that we will have fewer students, fewer faculty and fewer administrators,” Meyer said.

Meyer said his goal was to have minority enrollment at the College between 12 percent and 15 percent within the next five years. The breakdown should be representative of the states it pulls from – mainly Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio, he said.

Meyer said the admissions office must begin to reach out to different high schools, including those in the South Bend area.

“I think the thing the admissions office needs to do is go fishing in a different pond,” he said.

But Shropshire said some people mistake the need for diversity as a need to increase the number of minorities on campus, or to make those minorities already here feel more comfortable.

Instead, she said diversity is about learning about other people’s life experiences and expanding one’s own. A diverse campus would be “an asset” to the College and would add to a “well-rounded college experience.”

“If that means sitting with someone outside of your circle for lunch or going to a club meeting to meet different people or becoming a member of a board that deals with diversity, or staying to ask questions on how you can help at the end of this forum, you have taken the proper steps to help further empowerment of the women of Saint Mary’s College,” she said.

All speakers said a diverse student body and staff would include individuals from varying ethnic, socioeconomic, religious and sexually oriented backgrounds.

Russell said other Catholic institutions – such as DePaul – have created welcoming environments for students by establishing student centers and dorms for gay and lesbian students.

Diversity training is a good starting point for her and other members of the College community, Russell said.

“As a white person, I have to start by educating myself,” Russell said. “I have to make an effort … I have to be the person who wants to engage.”

The academic life of Saint Mary’s would also benefit from a more diverse student body and faculty, Henry said. As a white woman, she said she often finds herself teaching a class of all white students. But she strives to diversify her curriculum.

“We are not going to just read white writers and white women,” she said. “Why? Because that is not reality.”

Both Meyer and Russell said a diverse faculty and staff would increase classroom discussion – a crucial improvement for the College.

“I would put faculty and staff diversification as a far greater [need] right now than [that of] the [student body],” Meyer said

Saint Mary’s alumnae can also play a major role in diversifying the student body, Meyer said.

“I think the other thing is we need to engage our alumnae,” he said. “We have a lot of alumnae, especially diversity alumnae, who are not engaged with the institution.”