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Diversity at UCR: More than Just Talk

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The university continues to be a leader in the UC system with undergraduate African-American admissions

By Corey Arvin
Staff Writer

At a time when university officials are trying to build campuses that reflect the “melting pot” of America, University of California, Riverside (UCR) administrators have bolstered the school’s diversity enrollment among undergraduates and are finding new ways to appeal to prospective students. One of the school’s selling points, African-American enrollment, continues to see modest gains and recognition in the UC system.

“I love it,” said Emily Engelschall, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, referring to UCR’s campus diversity. “I have to say it is one of my top ten talking points when I am talking with students, parents, counselors ... Being able to offer a diverse educational experience to students coming in is invaluable. It is critical for any student to be able to have an educational experience that will mirror their experience when they graduate. And when I talk about diversity, it’s not just race, it is also culture. (UCR) is a diverse campus and that enriches the education experience,” she added.

For the Fall 2013 and 2014 admission cycles, African-Americans represented about 4.6% of total admissions at UCR. Total African-American student admissions increased from 784 students in 2013 to 815 students for 2014. Hispanic and Latino admissions, as well as Asian admissions also increased, with 5,698 Hispanic and Latino admissions for 2014, compared with 5,444 in 2013. Respectively, Asian American admissions increased to 7,972 students for 2014, compared with 7,483 in 2013.

Part of UCR’s ability to achieve high minority enrollments is tailoring campus tours to a prospective student’s background and interest. Prospective students are also able to experience what the student body is like and see how some of the campus organizations may appeal to them, said Engelschall.

This week, Time magazine ranked UCR the top university in the U.S., based on several criteria. The ranking was based on an algorithm using data from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

While UCR is a first choice for some college seekers, many students who are admitted were aiming for admission to other colleges or universities, but settled with UCR. Edozie Onumonu, who graduated from Los Osos High School, had his sights set on University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Barbara, but wasn’t accepted. He received an invitation from UCR and decided to tour the campus. Onumonu, who is now a senior, feels the campus life experience at UCR made it a better fit for him than any of the institutions he first applied to in high school, he said.

“To be completely honest, when they say UCR is the most ethnically diverse school, it really does make a difference with the bonds that you make with people and hearing their stories,” he said.

Onumonu credits his enrollment at UCR with continuing to shape his outlook on diversity and culture, adding to the perspectives he has gained as a first-generation American from Nigerian parents. He also believes he established a stronger connection with other Black students on campus who share similar backgrounds as his upbringing.

At UCR, “It’s more so about finding similar things because high school is about being cool and partying and in college, you meet African-Americans that are more about ‘I need to do this or that for my future.’ There is some comradery and understanding among African-Americans here trying to get into different fields that don’t have a lot of representation.”

One of the most beneficial advantages of attending UCR has been access to student organizations for African and Caribbean immigrant students. The awareness that those organizations exist were helpful, he said.

“I am a first generation American, but because I am an African-American on paper, the immigrant story gets lost. People think because we look the same they sort of lump us in this situation, but I might have more in common with a first generation American from South Korea than an African-American whose family has been here forever,” he said.

UCR’s success with African-American enrollment is hardly new, according to Ken Simons, Director of African Student Programs. Simons, who has worked at UCR for more than 25 years, graduated from the university in 1983. Since then, the Black student body has remained strong, but their backgrounds have shifted, he said.

“Twenty-five years ago, we had African-Americans from African-American families. Now, it’s not just for students of the African diaspora,” Simons said.

“UCR has a 60-to-70 percent population of students that are first generation. Their parents didn’t go to school, they don’t come from affluent backgrounds. First generation students have to work and receiving financial aid and resources are important for them. When I think in terms of the African-American student experience, cultivating the youth and letting them know [faculty] are here for them lets them know that they too can be here.”

Simons envisions a portion of UCR one day becoming a quasi-West Coast Historically Black College or University (HBCU). For now, to support the African-American student body, Simons’ program is pursuing partnerships with the Vines Medical Society, the Richard T. Fields Bar Association, and local NAACP chapters to help with the retention and graduation rates, he said.

Reaching out to students and partnering them with professional organizations doesn’t stop at the undergraduate level, according to Joseph Childers, PhD, Dean of the Graduate Division. The school encourages its undergraduates to advance their education if it will prepare them for their profession, he said.

According to Childers, the graduate division’s admissions are not as ethnically diverse as undergraduates, but have grown significantly, with most of its African-American students enrolled in Humanities programs.

“We do a number of things at the graduate level, letting them know this is a place where students can come and really pursue their dreams, especially their academic dreams. We connect students with a lot of professional organizations that are for students who are thinking of going to graduate school and many are students of color,” said Childers.

“Our faculty is very aware of diversity and are working very hard to get the type of recognition they deserve,” he said.

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