A meeting of the minds eclectic and special as they are is what the college experience is all about (or at least should strive to be about anyways). The peers you encounter in the classroom broaden your horizons, and help shape your thoughts with their own narratives. Likewise, there’s something to be said for the academic climate that brings you closer to the people you have things in common with; this could be certain ethnic backgrounds, religions, ideologies, the list goes on and on. What happens when a student body lacks diversity, though? That answer is simple: learning and personal growth becomes even more of a challenge. The University of Florida has an impressive 2,000 acre campus that services a whopping 32,000 undergraduates and counting. Take a quick scan of the grounds during class change, and you’ll notice something.
A majority of the public college is white. Enrollment among various minority groups has taken a plunge in recent years. Let’s explore the impact this could have on you as a current or prospective student looking to snatch up a degree in the Sunshine State.
You might be familiar with the term affirmative action from your high school democracy or history class. It means giving an advantage perhaps through a special policy to those who tend to suffer from discrimination. Race based college admissions were banished from the University of Florida once an executive order was signed in 2000, but minority group enrollment is steadily declining. One university system official told the Washington Post, “There will be so few black students on our campus that (future black students) will choose not to come here because no one looks like them.” It’s a point worth noting, as is the outrageous fact that Black History Month was cancelled in 2015, along with a failing multicultural talent show, due to low attendance. Disconnection and isolation isn’t what your academic career should be centered around.
It’s true, however, that administrators have been taking steps to make the campus more comfortable for minority students. Take the student union for example, which was recently expanded to include office space specifically for minority groups. There’s also other strides being made, like guaranteed free tuition and mentorship to 300 first generation students per class. Racially motivated events from the past have been counteracted with an emergency response team that provides anti-racism training. Of course, something should also be said for the fact that Latinas, Asian Americans, and African Americans have all served as student government leaders as of late.
Nevertheless, minority students still say they don’t feel like they’re accepted or welcome on the University of Florida campus. The state’s Hispanic and African American population is booming, but where are they going to school? Most are foregoing prominent institutions like UF for lesser known regional schools, which have less stringent admissions standards and more minority group representation.
Community is very important to new undergraduates hoping to discover more about themselves and their culture in the higher education system. They can sense the divide, and for many of them, it’s an instant turn off that leads them to look elsewhere. Incoming freshmen will have to be more diverse before this otherwise lauded university can restore its perception. If you’re hoping for classrooms filled with those coming from a variety of backgrounds, in addition to a campus you can feel safe on, then UF might not be the place for you at present.
Ryan James is a ’13 alumnus of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences with a bachelor’s degree in writing and media. He currently works as a copywriter for a Fortune 500 e-commerce corporation based in Columbus, OH.