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Diversity in Higher Education

According to College Factual’s diversity statistics, 78.7 percent of Drake’s undergraduate students and 87 percent of their faculty are white, falling below the national average for racial diversity in colleges.

As incoming freshmen, many students said they were promised diversity on campus and in their classrooms, later to find that campus stood predominantly white in both the student and faculty population. 

“Diversity means an environment where people of all different backgrounds and identities are welcomed, listened to and appreciated,” junior Kali Wilson said. “It means looking around a room and seeing a face that looks like your own and feeling safe instead of the odd one out.” 

Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusion Erin Lain said repairing harm that has been done to certain groups over the years and giving access to education to students who haven’t had access before is key to reaching diversity, equity and inclusion at Drake. 

“Higher education requires an individual to have a set of funds that allows them to have that education,” sophomore Pandora Sarpong said. “Not everyone has that privilege so they’ll be more likely to shy away from it, and unfortunately, white individuals are more likely than their minority counterparts to have the money that is ‘required’ to attain such an education therefore contributing to the lack of diversity that we see in institutions of higher education.”

Lain has worked to help bridge this gap and create greater diversity at Drake, one example being Lain’s work with the CORE Pipeline Program at Drake. This program allows high school students of color in the Greater Des Moines area to come to campus six times a year to see and learn what college is like in preparation to apply. 

Lain said that students who have grown up in Des Moines don’t always see Drake as ‘Des Moines’ university’ and don’t see higher education at Drake as an option. Lain hopes to grow the CORE program and to expand the project, bringing in more students of color from all around Iowa.

Drake has worked to create several scholarship opportunities for minority students to promote increased diversity on campus. The CORE program established a scholarship to help potential students recognize the opportunities around them for education and to assist current students at Drake. 

Another option is the Catalyst Fund, an emergency scholarship that helps students from underrepresented groups pay for things like apartment rent, a laptop or unexpected expenses that may deter from returning to Drake due to lack of funds. 

Long term race and ethnicity trends at Drake for student diversity based on race and ethnicity have improved from past years. This year, for the first time, Drake’s incoming student body is composed of 25 percent students of color, though Drake’s faculty is far behind those diverse numbers.

“Working on our faculty diversity has to be one of our top priorities,” Lain said. “We have to find ways that we can recruit faculty, particularly faculty of color to Drake and then work on keeping them. In the past we have done an okay job at recruiting faculty of color, last year we hired 15 faculty and the majority of those faculty were faculty of color but then we also need to work on retention so they are not leaving for different jobs, leaving for different institutions.”

Sophomore Caleb Lillquist said he feels like Drake needs to work on their recruitment of minority faculty members. 

“Drake has a vast number of minority and ‘abroad’ students to diversify the predominantly white campus, though where Drake falls short is in their numbers of Asian students and especially Asian faculty,” Lillquist said. “With almost no Asian professors, I simply feel left out.” 

Some students said they came to Drake excited to experience the diverse campus as they were promised, only to be disappointed. 

“I vividly remember when I was considering Drake how much they emphasized diversity to the prospective students,” sophomore Carly Swanson said. “However, coming to campus I did not see that diversity they had previously discussed. When I’m in class I look around to see a predominantly white student body, including myself.”

Wilson can remember multiple acts of racism that have happened over her three years on campus. Wilson said she believes if Drake wants to see more diversity on their campus, they must prove to the students of color who already attend Drake that they take racism seriously.

“It’s not enough to acknowledge the acts after they happen, Drake needs to show students that racism will not be tolerated before it becomes an issue, not as damage control,” Wilson said. “I’ve noticed that many white students don’t come from diverse backgrounds, so it’s partly Drake’s responsibility to teach these students what is right and wrong regarding race. Drake needs to practice what they preach when it comes to diversity and inclusion.”

Swanson said she understands that change takes time, but it’s a change that is much-needed at Drake.

As a white person, I find this subject difficult to discuss because I am unable to speak from personal experience when it comes to issues on diversity. I look around at Drake and see a bunch of people like me,” Swanson said. “I believe our students and staff want to create a space where anyone could come to Drake and feel at home, but those changes won’t happen overnight.”

Lain has helped to create opportunities like Bulldog Foundations, which is a freshman course that is now required this year for the first time. There is a three-module component about diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“Part of what we are trying to do there is introduce people to the idea of diversity, why it’s important, how we navigate and support a diverse environment,” Lain said. “I think it’s all about education, it’s all about helping people see why diversity is so important, why inclusion is so important, those are some of the ways we help people understand our commitment to equity and inclusion right away in their first year.”

Though this class is now required for all first-year students, there are many other ways students and faculty already attending Drake can help to create a more inclusive environment. 

Lain said making an environment where people feel like they belong will go a long way to creating and maintaining diversity.

“It’s going to be really hard for us to get more diversity at Drake if people don’t feel comfortable here, if people don’t feel like they can succeed based on who they are,” Lain said. “If you see someone or experience someone behaving in a noninclusive way, talk to them about it. Encourage them to think about how they can make Drake a more inclusive place.”

Drake has 15 multicultural organizations on campus that make up the Unity Roundtable, where students from diverse backgrounds can find a place where they feel safe and surrounded by individuals just like them. 

“What I would tell students is to support those organizations, go to those organizations events even if you are not LatinX, if you’re not from the LGBTQ community,” Lain said. “You can still support those organizations and that makes a more inclusive environment where those who are not a part of those communities can become allies and support.”

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