Education

Many University of Iowa minority students don't know about support programs

Low numbers, low awareness

Panelists spokes at forum held to explore ways University of Iowa administrators try to make their Iowa City campus more welcoming to minorities. The panelists were students Lilián Sánchez (from left), Kimberly Chexnayder, Mario Williams and Gerardo “Geo” Guerrero-Segura and diversity services administrator Lauren Garcia. (Lyle Muller/IowaWatch)
Panelists spokes at forum held to explore ways University of Iowa administrators try to make their Iowa City campus more welcoming to minorities. The panelists were students Lilián Sánchez (from left), Kimberly Chexnayder, Mario Williams and Gerardo “Geo” Guerrero-Segura and diversity services administrator Lauren Garcia. (Lyle Muller/IowaWatch)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has services and programming to help black and Latino students feel welcome. But a lot of those students don’t know about the programs, minority students preparing to graduate this month said.

Meantime, these students struggle to exist in a predominantly white campus, they said.

“When you think of universities, you think of white spaces,” Kimberly Chexnayder, a senior from Kansas City, Mo., said during a forum IowaWatch organized to talk about the concerns Thursday night. “It’s so hard for white people to think about their own privileges.”

Chexnayder said she has faith that the UI can recruit students of color, but new students often are not aware of services that exist to help them feel more welcome and comfortable at the university, she said.

Asked how universities, in general, can address cultural issues, Chexnayder said, “I think it starts with cultural competence.” College courses stressing cultural competence — the ability to communicate with people from other cultures — help, but many times the information goes in one ear and out the other, she said.

Or students take the class simply so they can show they attended, Chexnayder said.

Universities need to start recruiting students of color in kindergarten and track them through grade school to keep them focused on education, Chexnayder said.

The forum, held on the university’s campus, was in response to a Jan. 29 Hechinger Report study showing that, while many flagship universities across the country have low enrollment of black and Latino students, the UI showed a slight rise in first-time degree-seeking students from those minority populations.

Mario Williams, a senior from Chicago, said he didn’t know about UI programming for minority students when he was recruited. He since has learned about them and tapped into them.

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Lauren Garcia, assistant director of the UI’s Center for Diversity and Enrichment, said university officials try to connect students with resources and space. Full-time staff are dedicated to cultural centers, she said. Also, university officials are reaching out to students in places such as West Liberty, which is predominantly Latino.

“There’s obviously work to be done, and to approve upon,” Garcia said.

Her office, for example, tries to reach students and counsel them early in their college career but also when recruiting students to the university.

“I think students, individually, are helping promote that awareness. I think the university is trying to grasp with that perspective,” Gerardo “Geo” Guerrero-Segura, a senior from Sioux City, said.

The Hechinger Report study covered enrollment in 2010 to 2015. It showed the University of Iowa’s Latino student enrollment for first-time, degree-seeking undergraduates increased from five percent of all students in 2010 to nine percent in 2015.

Black undergraduate first-time degree enrollment rose from two percent of all students in 2010 to four percent in 2015.

Updated total enrollment figures filed with Iowa’s Board of Regents for fall 2017 showed 6.8 percent of the UI’s students were Latino and 3.2 percent were black or African-American.

Latinos comprised 5.8 percent of Iowa’s estimated population in a July 2017 U.S. Census Bureau report show. Blacks comprised 3.7 percent.

The Hechinger Report did not cover Native Americans. Dawson Davenport said Native Americans often are ignored, but that he wanted to attend the UI.

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Davenport, a senior from Meskwaki studying graphic arts, said Native American faculty are small and stretched thin helping to support the university’s Native American students.

Native American enrollment was 58 in fall 2017. Davenport said six students from Meskwaki will attend the UI next year.

“To me that’s huge. Six people from my community are coming to college here,” he said. “We’re here . We just want to be acknowledged.”

Although the UI enrollment statistics were close to what is seen in Iowa’s overall population, Jorge Guerra, an adjunct faculty member in Latino studies, noted that a lot of the blacks and Latinos at the University of Iowa come from places outside Iowa, notably the Chicago area.

“If you were to take away our athletes, you would take about 300 black students from our campus,” Chexnayder said.

She has been working with the UI football team as a student recruiting assistant and is starting a career as a junior executive in the National Football League after graduating this month.

A lot of black athletes drop out of the UI because they do not feel they fit into the campus, she said.

Other concerns students aired during the forum were similar to what IowaWatch heard during interviews last winter. They included relatively small enrollment numbers for black and Latino students that leave new students looking for people with whom they culturally have something in common.

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Enrollment figures in the state regents’ report showed 2.6 percent of Iowa State University’s total fall 2017 enrollment was black and 5 percent was Latino. The University of Northern Iowa figures showed 2.7 percent black and 3.6 percent Latino. ISU and UNI were not part of the Hechinger Report study.

l This story was produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org, a nonprofit, online news website that collaborates with Iowa news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative reporting.

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