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Diversity beyond percentages

There is no shortage of conversation on diversity and multiculturalism coming out of Duke Administration, especially when in reference to the student body demographics. Over the years, this discourse seems to have produced some results as shown by a steadily increasing percentage of minority students at Duke, an area where other elite schools are stagnating. University officials chalk it up to a diverse applicant pool, courtesy of intentional efforts by the admissions office. While the process of recruiting and contacting historically underrepresented groups to join the Duke community is a crucial step towards promoting diversity, it is far from the final effort that should be made to foster a more hospitable campus. The current issue facing the university lies in solely focusing on bringing more students of color and lower socioeconomic statuses to campus, applauding ourselves for doing so and then not providing them with continuous institutional support that can ensure success once they arrive.

It is no secret that Duke’s image is one of a predominately white and rich institution. While that clearly doesn’t reflect the entire student body, it’s not without some truth. White students still outnumber any other race and the average median family income of a Duke student is well above that of the national average. Given those numbers, there are bound to be aspects of life at Duke that consciously and subconsciously cater to the white students and those who are more wealthy. Unfortunately along with that, there are preexisting expectations for racial and socioeconomic minorities on campus to have the same resources at their disposal and the same institutional knowledge as their peers in the majority. 

While the Black Student Alliance Invitational and Latino Student Recruitment Week can help provide some initial guidance for black and Latinx students, they are expected afterwards to effortlessly assimilate into life at Duke; a campus that can be, at times, overwhelmingly white. For low income students, making the transition into a place where so many of the students around them are unfamiliar with the stress of debt, poverty, and navigating college as a first generation scholar can be an isolating experience. For students who fall into both categories, they are faced with a combination of class-based and race-based alienation that can be detrimental. It’s crucial to recognize that these racial and financial differences that can structure a student’s day-to-day life do not disappear after BSAI and LSRW end or when scholarships are awarded.

While the Reginaldo Howard Memorial and David Rubenstein programs are valuable, offering mentorship and support to a limited selection of individuals is simply not enough to assist students of color and those with lesser financial means. General student resources such as the Academic Resource Center and the Career Center should continue to make efforts to be purposeful in providing programming and tools specifically for those students. Facilities like the Mary Lou, Mi Gente and the CMA should not be the only ones striving to make non-white students feel welcome in their own university. More financially and racially homogenous departments should also take steps to also design programs that reach out to these students and make those areas of study more welcoming. Additionally, there is an ever-present lack of faculty diversity and this disconnect can cause daily, individualized power struggles that may be hard to see, but can make or break a student’s time here.

Regardless of how much progress is being made in comparison to other schools across the country, there is still a need to focus on continuously creating new ways of supporting underrepresented students for their four years on campus. While Duke tends to think in numbers, from school rankings to minority student admissions, students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds deserve to be thought of as individuals rather than just percentages. As Duke strives to increase diversity in the admissions process, there should also be concerted efforts to continue that institutional support beyond orientation week. 

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