After several years of receiving criticism for a lack of campus diversity, the University of Delaware is discussing ways to make the student body, faculty and staff more diverse.
The University’s College of Arts and Sciences said $1 million of its budget has been committed to the issue. In addition, the state is making plans for an independent diversity study of the university.
“We’ve had institutional conversations about the benefits of diversity, not only for the academic community at large, but the more we diversify the campus the more we impact communities outside the university as well,” said Vice Provost for Diversity, Carol Henderson.
“We educate a global citizenry so these individuals become ambassadors to go out in the world, and engage civic responsibility, social justice, and critical thinking that influences and impacts world culture.”
Of the university’s 17,412 students enrolled in 2014, 13,184 students, about 75 percent, were white—while 881 were African American.
The Hispanic population, with 1,236 students, was higher than the African American population. The Asian student population was the lowest at 774.
The university has been criticized by Delaware political leaders and civic groups for its low African American population.
“We have been instrumental in asking them to increase their efforts in diversity,” said Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington. “They really haven’t worked as hard getting a more diverse campus.”
Rep. J.J. Johnson, D-New Castle, said the university has “failed miserably” at making a diverse campus. He said there are several steps the university could take to improve.
“They can reach out to the minority community, in certain areas like the city of Wilmington. They can reach out to the NAACP, the Urban League, there are various organizations they can reach out to in order to address this,” Johnson said.
Henderson took the position of vice provost for diversity about a year ago with the objective of engaging university senior leadership to consider ways to enhance diversity.
“We know we have work to do, which is why this position was created,” she said.
The university contends that it has made improvements over the years.
The past three freshmen classes are the most diverse classes in the university’s history, it says. And more than 20 percent of the students in each class come from minority groups.
The percentage of underrepresented minorities also increased from 11.9 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2015. In addition, of the roughly 1,200 in-state freshmen on the Newark campus this fall, 30 percent are minority students. African American students make up 10 percent of the university’s in-state freshman class, which is more than double five years ago, according to the university.
Henderson said part of the $1 million in the College of Arts and Sciences budget will be used to set up recruiting efforts to increase diversity among students, faculty and staff. However, she says the specifics of those efforts are still under discussion.
It was confirmed that part of that budget will be used for already existing programs that support underrepresented students. One of these programs specific to the College, NUCLEUS, ensures academic success, retention and graduation of students through services like advisement, research opportunities and career services.
In addition, the state has taken action to ensure the university attends to the lack of diversity.
As part of the yearly $117 million the university receives from the state, $200,000 of this year’s funding is supposed to be spent on improving diversity.
An independent group will be tasked with researching diversity on campus and presenting recommendations to the university on how to address the issue by May 1. Delaware’s Office of Management and Budget will choose an independent group by mid-December to start the study January 2016.
Johnson said this initiative was in response to the state’s concern about diversity issues brought up in a meeting with the university early this year. He said the Newark chapter of the NAACP wrote a letter of concern about the issue. The organization could not immediately be reached for comment.
Henderson said she’s currently working on a diversity action plan to be released in the coming months that will be a blueprint for the entire university. She said other colleges within the university also have directed diversity initiatives in the past.
“I’m pleased to hear they are trying to do more,” McDowell said.
“We’ve had promises before, and this is what got me and other members of the community riled up a bit. We’ve had promises by the university before and they haven’t met. But certainly this is a step in the right direction.”
Johnson said he agrees.
“If they are doing it I applaud them doing that,” he said.
McDowell said as the university looks for a new president, he would like it to consider an individual who would be dedicated to bringing diversity to the university. He said if the university takes appropriate action, the changes will be noticeable.
“We’re really talking about changing the culture of the university, and when it changes you will be able to feel it, you will be able to see it, and certainly a person of color at the university will feel differently and feel a part of that university community, and then you will know progress is being made,” McDowell said.