Underrepresented and Overstrained
By Justin Wier & Liam Bouquet
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported that there were around 2,000 incoming minority students in 2015. That was the total number of minority students. The story has been updated to reflect the actual number of 497.
Programs designed to help increase integration on campus suffer because of insufficient resources, even though many students see this as a significant problem at Youngstown State University.
William Blake, director of the Office of Student Diversity, said he spoke to several of the students he works with about their campus experiences.
“In many instances, they felt social life at the university tended to be rather segregated,” he said.
Tiffany Anderson, director of the Africana studies program, said only certain types of black students are able to fully participate in campus life, contributing to this sense of segregation among others.
“Once they have proven themselves to be able to be in a white space, people then continue to want to be with them because ‘Oh, you are OK,’” she said.
Julian Jones, president of the Student Diversity Council and presidential mentor, agreed, adding that he is often the only black student on university committees.
“You just don’t find that many. It is kind of the same group. I could probably count on both hands all the people who are involved all the time and stay involved,” Jones said. “Some people are just scared to be engaged, because they feel like they are already eliminated, so they don’t want to try.”
Both Jones and Victoria Shaffer, YSU’s NAACP chapter president, said they felt overtaxed.
“Definitely, once I got involved it was, ‘Oh, I need you to go here. I need you to be a part of this committee.’ You get tired, and there are so many other students who are doing well. Use them as well,” Shaffer said.
Diverse student organizations — such as NAACP, Black Student Union and historically black Greek organizations — and diverse programming attempt to engage black students directly.
Both Anderson and Jones agree that the strength of diversity programming has increased over the years.
“I think the university does an awesome job in the Office of Student Diversity,” Anderson said. “If the university is wise, they will use [Blake] on a larger scale, because he could be very impactful in bringing diversity to YSU.”
Shaffer said these programs and groups are not always successful at engagement.
“Just being part of NAACP, I think a lot of people just like paying their money, and they don’t want to participate,” she said. “We will have forums and people will ask, ‘Why aren’t there enough black events?’ There are a ton, but you don’t come. You come when there is a party, so why don’t you come when there is a forum on Black Lives Matter?”
Eddie Howard, associate vice president of Student Experience, called upon students to make things happen for themselves. He said he sees a variety of programs that support students of color.
“You can’t say nothing is going on here when you are not engaged,” Howard said. “If those opportunities don’t present themselves, then you need to be asking questions why. ‘Why am I not at the table?’ I try to encourage students who are in that situation to do that.”
Howard said a contributing factor is the lack of an advising infrastructure support among minority organizations that allow groups like the Student Government Association to flourish.
“When you see an organization that thrives, it is because there is someone in there, an adviser, who is helping them from year to year to year to create a type of consistency,” Howard said. “When you leave a student organization to its own devices, you are only as good as the leader that you choose.”
Anderson, Jones and Shaffer agreed with Howard, though Jones said black faculty and staff experience the same fatigue as black students.
Shaffer said YSU’s commuter campus agitates the problem with engagement. Though more black students live on campus than white students, 82.7 percent of black students are commuters.
“YSU is a terrible campus honestly,” Shienne Williams, a student majoring in Africana studies, said. “[Students] do what they have to do and then they leave.”
Blake said the Office of Student Diversity works with students to elevate them academically and encourages involvement in campus life, citing four graduate students as success stories.
A major obstacle was the movement of the office from Kilcawley to Jones Hall, though the administration has decided to return Blake to Kilcawley.
Anderson said the initial decision reflected the segregation of black students on campus.
“Why the hell is it in Jones Hall?’” Anderson asked. “All things cultural and diverse are on the fringe of the university. The metaphor exists in reality. It doesn’t make any sense that you would have a student focused office in a building with no students in it.”
Blake said he was never invited to give an opinion on moving his office to Jones Hall.
“Those decisions were made above my pay grade,” he said. “Basically, you have to stay in your pay grade, and when you step out of your pay grade, there are some serious problems.”
Blake said that regardless of the placement of the office, he lacks resources. When Blake was asked to create and head the office, he said he could only accomplish the office’s goals with adequate resources, both physical and financial.
“So when I first came into this office I had two graduate assistants, and I had a secretary,” Blake said. “My last secretary just recently took a job this past week with the Department of Defense. … Her position was eliminated, so she went to part time.”
The office is now part of the Division of Multicultural Affairs. Blake said they were provided with no new resources with the move, a situation that is not unique to his office.
“Resources have been removed, and everybody’s plate is full, yet we are still piling more on the plate,” he said. “We need more hands doing the work. That looks like more staff.”
Mike Beverly, a senior coordinator at the Center for Student Progress, manages the Summer Bridge Program, which provides a weeklong college prep program detailing support services available on campus to incoming multicultural students.
This type of program can be especially helpful for minority students coming from the inner-city, who Blake said struggle in particular to overcome alienation and become involved.
“They grew up in a primarily African-American school like that and then when they come to school — for some of them — it is an adjustment,” Beverly said.
Beverly said the participating minorities tend to graduate at a higher rate, yet only 28 of 497 incoming minority students attended in 2015.
“I can tell you, we don’t have a lot of funds to work with,” Beverly said. “I believe more money could definitely help … Hopefully we could allow for more students to come. We have had years where we have gone over 30.”
Though there are available services and staff for minority students to access if a problem arises, the support system does not always work as it is supposed to.
Shaffer shared her experience trying to file a grievance after a professor made a sexist remark to her.
“The person who does grievances passed away, so I was running around for maybe two or three weeks looking for someone to help me with filing a grievance,” Shaffer said. “So I was just getting passed around, ‘Oh, I am not doing this anymore,’ or ‘Oh, I am going to be out of town.’”
Shaffer connected her problem back to the effect a lack of visible support in and outside of the classroom can have on minority students.
“I am here paying tuition, getting an education and to have someone not help and physically tell me they are not going to help, and I am paying you to teach me; it is very disheartening,” she said. “It is discouraging to know you are not wanted in a classroom setting.”
This is the second of a four-part series entitled “Black at YSU,” examining the experiences of black students on campus.