As of fall 2017, UNC-Chapel Hill had a 7.8 percent enrollment rate for Black students, one of the lowest in the state, while just over 22 percent of residents in North Carolina are Black.
Of the five largest public universities in North Carolina, including North Carolina State University, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro and Eastern Carolina University, only N.C. State had a lower percentage of Black students — at 5.8 percent.
Additionally, as of fall 2017, UNC had a 7.5 percent enrollment rate for Hispanic students, compared to the state population of 9.2 percent. In the last six years, the Hispanic population in North Carolina has risen by 16.5 percent, while the percentage at UNC has remained between 6 and 8 percent.
Dexter Robinson, an academic adviser and Men of Color campus staff liaison, said he didn’t have an exact answer as to why the percentage is low but said there have been individuals across campus and the state who have been vocal about wanting to raise the percentage of Black students at UNC and reflect the percentage in the state.
Besides sheer acceptances, Robinson said the diversity problem could lie in the University’s yield. He said in the current cultural climate, and with UNC making headlines for the Silent Sam controversy, potential minority students may choose to go to college “where they feel more comfortable.”
“They feel (other schools are) going to be a little more welcoming environment, so we do have students of color that are choosing not to come here because of the cultural climate of the country,” Robinson said.
When first-year Maggie Stein was choosing between colleges, she had two priorities at the top of her list: diversity and prestige.
“Carolina does a good job compared to diversity at other schools, but that’s because the standard is pretty low,” Stein said.
Both Stein and Robinson said much of the problem lies in the treatment of students of color once they arrive on campus.
“Diversity shouldn’t just be something you check off,” Stein said. “It’s about making people feel celebrated and affirmed.”
Although Robinson said most students go through a ‘culture shock’ academically when they first arrive at UNC, students of color experience more difficulty. One way Men of Color combats this adjustment period is the Start Strong Coaching Grou p, a program which brings together a small group of minority men and exposes them to opportunities at UNC before they arrive.
“We have them understand the lay of the land and how to maneuver it before they start a full-time load,” Robinson said. “It’s proven to be pretty influential as far as their academic success here. The majority GPA is 3.1.”
This cultural change also leads minorities to gravitate toward ethnic groups they are a part of.
“The argument is that there’s not a whole bunch of us here, so we gravitate towards each other really, really fast, and a lot of other ethnic groups will do the same,” Robinson said.
Robinson said UNC has a commitment to creating a diverse community, and attempts to diversify each class beyond race each semester. However, he said UNC could improve on interactions between different students once they arrive on campus.
“There’s no structure in place that would force you to engage with people that they wouldn’t necessarily, other than choosing your classes or living in your dorm, which is something all other institutions do,” Robinson said.
Although Robinson said people have good intentions on campus, the reality is that people have natural biases that need to be combated.
“As far as the yield, it could’ve been an extension to 'eh, I don’t that’s going to be the right fit for me,' which is absolutely fine,” Robinson said. “But at the same time, the reasoning for it not being a good fit for you are those things that we can control.”
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