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“How do you think you could enrich our diverse and inclusive community?”
That’s the question CU asked me (and probably many of you) to answer last year as we sat down to write our college application essays. I was taken aback because the question itself surprised me, but the statement that it implied was even more unexpected: “CU is diverse, and that’s the first thing you should know about it.” I answered the question, sent in the essay and eight months later I arrived, ready to become part of the purportedly diverse atmosphere of CU Boulder.
When I got here, I quickly noticed that my residence hall floor was anything but diverse. OK, maybe that’s just coincidence, I thought. The next day I took my first couple trips to the C4C, where again I found little diversity. Then I went to my first class, and the second, and the third, fourth and fifth. Wait, CU has diversity? Where?
The expectation vs. reality in racial diversity at CU is a jarring one. There is seemingly a vision of CU as a richly diverse, flourishing microcosm of what an accepting world should look like; all my application and scholarship essay prompts, my admissions counselor and my pre-enrollment informational programs suggested that strongly, but then you get here, and…are we talking about the same CU?
I asked myself how such a well-known university could represent itself as diverse and be totally different in reality. The answer is complicated. The truth is that when it comes to major universities, CU isn’t as criminally lacking in racial diversity as you might think; in fact, we might be doing a relatively good job of maintaining it.
Before your jaw unhinges, check the facts. In fall 2012, CU was 73.2 percent white, CSU was 75 percent white and DU was 85 percent white. Further east, Ohio State was 83.7 percent white, the University of Connecticut 74 percent, and the University of Georgia 73 percent. CU isn’t a record-shattering beacon of hope for diversity, but it isn’t the only school that’s struggling.
Part of the reason why we see so little racial diversity at CU is due to the demographics of the state as a whole; minorities make up only 11.9 percent of Colorado’s population. At CU, the percentage is 19.1 percent. In some way, we’re actually beating the odds.
“Boulder’s not alone,” said David Aragon, Executive Director for Student Success in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement at CU. “Universities across the country are working hard to increase diversity. It speaks to the challenges in K-12 education.”
Aragon and the ODECE seek to help high school students prepare themselves for college through CU’s Pre-Collegiate Development program, and through various academic programs that focus on putting middle and high school students on the right track to college. The ODECE helps foster diversity on campus through the CU-LEAD Alliance program, which provides academic learning communities that build relationships between students of different backgrounds.
“The students have really been great mentors for me to really focus in on what I want to do with design as my major,” Katy Caballero, a 21-year-old senior environmental design major and CU-LEAD student, said. “It’s really been helpful to have that sense of community, or network, to be able to touch base with and guide me.”
When it comes to the gap between K-12 education and college preparedness, it may come down to a waiting game; the amount of the student body that identifies with a minority group has sharply increased from 15.5 percent to 19.1 percent in just three years.
We all can help CU’s diversity grow by being an accepting and welcoming campus. The 11 academic and diversity-centered programs in the CU-LEAD Alliance reflect what Buffs do in their everyday lives: put out a positive attitude toward all students here in Boulder. We aren’t exactly a rainbow coalition just yet, but the day when an incoming student won’t be shocked by our level of diversity may come sooner than we think.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ellis Arnold at Ellis.firstname.lastname@example.org.