Youngstown State University consistently fails its students of color.
There is no other way to interpret the 8.5 percent graduate rate among black students. They are 10 times more likely to leave the university with nothing to show for it but student debt rather than to walk away with a YSU degree.
In effect, their decision to improve themselves by attending this institution often leaves them worse off.
The sense among black students that they don’t belong at YSU, as we found during our interviews, certainly does not help us retain and graduate black students.
Our lack of black faculty and staff exacerbates this sense of alienation.
We can’t tolerate an engineering professor telling a black student “a lot of you guys don’t make it in the engineering department,” but less blatant slights also need to be addressed.
There are two things the university can and should do. One is to hire more black faculty. Another is to provide some degree of cultural sensitivity training to existing faculty.
Michael Jerryson, associate professor of religious studies, revealed that he underwent a shift in his perception of issues of race after taking a class about race in graduate school. Maybe other professors would become more attuned to these concerns if they took a similar class.
It would likely benefit students as well. Perhaps we need a program on race that’s similar to the Safe Zone program that exists to address LGBTQ issues.
Of course, these inequities in outcome are not unique to YSU. They extend across our society.
The war on drugs is a particularly salient example. White Americans use and sell drugs at similar rates to black Americans, yet black Americans bear the brunt of the war on drugs. They are more likely to be arrested and incarcerated, and the average sentences faced by black offenders are longer than the sentences faced by white offenders convicted of the same crime.
Similar stories exist in health and education outcomes. There are significant problems in the public school system — particularly in Youngstown.
This means a lot of students of color arrive at YSU already disadvantaged. While it would be easier to blame these problems on society, the university needs to be willing to accommodate those disadvantages. It’s not enough to attempt to reform the public school system and wait 12 years for local students to show up college-ready, assuming the reforms are successful.
But we do not just fail students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who lack college readiness. We fail academically successful black students as well.
Tressel and Imler’s Culture of Community Collaborative deserves praise, but we need targeted efforts directed at vulnerable populations as well.
Students may be working jobs to support loved ones, maybe we could work a bit harder to provide them with on campus jobs to keep them connected to their education.
Students may need counseling or support services. The university recently hired a counseling director, but she, like our existing clinician, is white. They might not be attuned to the unique challenges black students are facing. Encouraging applicants of color for the next opening would help.
A common refrain in these interviews is that students don’t feel like they have an outlet to discuss these problems.
Of course, it’s easier to pretend we live in a colorblind meritocracy. To point to successful persons of color as evidence that progress is possible and to blame those who don’t succeed for their own failings. But successful black students are overcoming what amounts to a cultural tax, a tax not applied to students who are not minorities. As a university, we need to make sure the proper actions are being taken to counter this tax.
The editorial board that writes editorials consists of the editor-in-chief, the managing editor, the copy editor, and the news editor. These opinion pieces are written separately from news articles. They draw on the opinions of the entire writing staff and do not reflect the opinions of any individual staff member. The Jambar’s business manager and non-writing staff do not contribute to editorials, and the advisor does not have final approval.
This editorial addresses a four-part series entitled “Black at YSU,” examining the experiences of black students on campus.
Part 1: Being Black at YSU
Part 2: Underrepresented and Overstrained
Part 3: SGA Confronts its Lack of Diversity
Part 4: Envisioning an Integrated Campus
Editorial: Confronting Complacency