University of Utah offers organizations for African Americans

Story and slideshow by ALYSHA NEMESCHY

Take a campus tour and see details about some diversity resources.

University of Utah students’ schedules are filled with events, dances, organizations, clubs, parties and much, much more to keep them busy throughout their academic careers. With all of these opportunities made available to students the question is raised, is the — as a university — making a large enough effort to cater such events to minority students, specifically, those of African descent.

According to the diversity demographics report of 2012-2013 the total number of African Americans studying at the U was 1 percent. Compare that to the 72 percent population of whites, and it becomes obvious why African Americans are often underrepresented at the school.

Comprising only 1 percent of a population makes it is easy and an unfortunate normality to get lost in a sea of those people making up the majority, causing them to go unrecognized and unnoticed.

However, the U is going to great lengths to provide events, organizations and clubs to help African Americans maintain their culture and individual differences while still fitting in on campus. Additionally, the U is making a significant effort to recognize the African American community not just for the minority, but to spread cultural awareness to the majority as well.

The U has an Office for Equity and Diversity that is geared to catering to diverse groups and aiding in their college careers in any way possible. The associate vice president for equity and diversity, Dr. Octavio Villalpando, gives this message on the office’s homepage: The office “is committed to removing barriers that have been traditionally encountered by individuals from underrepresented groups; strives to recruit students, faculty and staff who will further enrich our campus diversity; and makes every attempt to support their academic, professional and personal success while they are here.”

Furthermore, on the office’s homepage there are links for underrepresented groups where information can be found regarding activities, events and calendars showcasing what is being offered to represent different minority groups on campus.

Throughout Black Awareness Month, the office showcased several events for African Americans including a keynote speech by Capt. Marshall E. Allan, a film screening, a black culture night featuring African dance and music, and much more.

One such event that was very popular among students and faculty was a keynote address by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He spoke to the audience  about success, barriers and how to overcome them.

Jackson addressed the idea of keeping hope alive at the U through equality and said, “We are the generation of hope…Keep hope alive.”

African Americans were brought together and recognized at Jackson’s speech that brought strength to those who made up the minority and brought awareness to those who make up the majority of the population on campus.

In addition to the Office for Equity and Diversity there is a club available to African American students to help them not feel as though their cultural background is being lost while attending a school with such a small percent of African Americans, the Black Student Union.

According to the club webpage, “the mission of the BSU is to foster a sense of community among all students of the African Diaspora at the U. Our goal is to simulate the intellectual, political, cultural and social growth of the Black/African American student body.”

The BSU helps to establish a sense of community while promoting interaction among African American students at the U. Additionally, the BSU organizes venues and means to help address issues.

Jasmine Walton, secretary of the BSU, said in an email that she believes it is still common for African Americans not only on campus, but also in Utah to feel ostracized from the community due to their very low demographic make-up in the state and the division between cultures.

However, Walton believes that through clubs and organizations like the BSU, more can be done to help represent smaller cultural groups on campus and by doing so help spread cultural awareness throughout the U community.

“The BSU helps college students become more successful because they are given a support system on campus,” she said.

In addition to the presidents and secretaries of these clubs going to great lengths to help make the U feel more like home for African Americans, the university in its entirety is trying to be more culturally aware by helping African Americans stand out and take pride in their background rather than blend in.

By funding events for African Americans on campus students both of African descent and of European descent are given the opportunity to learn more about cultural differences and broaden their understanding and respect toward others.

In addition to offering clubs and organizations for African American students at the U, scholarships are also offered to African American students on campus to help further their education and in addition to help increase the amount of diversity that the U offers.

David Pershing, University of Utah president, said scholarships “will provide African American students with important financial assistance, mentoring and academic support as they complete their education.”

It is vital for racial barriers to be brought down at the U in order for African Americans to be able to succeed while gaining an education. With the bringing down of these barriers African American students can better overcome obstacles, further educate themselves and have greater success in life.

According to the diversity demographic report the increase of African American transfer students enrollment from the 2003-2004 school year, to the 2012-2013 school year has more than tripled in number.

Organizations that bring down barriers and help to represent African American students at the U such as the Black Student Union and the Office for Equity and Diversity could be attributed to the growth of African American students on campus.

In the future, the increase of African American cultural awareness among students and faculty will hopefully help drive more diversity to the school and in addition help diverse groups feel welcomed and comfortable while on campus. Ultimately, making the U a better school for diverse students.

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