Chapman is highly ranked for ethnic diversity and its percentage of Asians and Hispanics continues to grow.
But Chapman has been unable to nudge its percentage of African Americans to even two percent.
The percentage of students who identify as African American has gone from 1.56 percent in 2017 to 1.64 percent in 2018, according to unreleased data by the Office of Admissions.
“That minuscule bump is meaningless. It is probably one additional student,” said Robert Bruce Slater, Managing Editor for the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 13.4% of Americans identify as African American.
Students identifying as Native American or Native Alaskan also haven’t seen much more representation, either. Their percentage of our student body went from .12 to .19, demonstrating a .07% increase.
“The University’s five-year plan includes supporting first-gen, low-income and underserved local students,” said Admissions Counselor Tracy Rastello. “Over the past two incoming classes, we’ve increased the percentage of students of color by 4.5%.”
Indeed, the white student population from 2014 to 2017 decreased by more than 10%, according to DataMart’s Freshmen Profile by Ethnicity. But it is Asians and Latinos filling that space – not African Americans or Native Americans.
The Chapman data was collected through the Common Application in the summer for fall 2018 and was recorded as the deposited class (students who have confirmed their acceptance to Chapman.) The number includes both freshman and transfer students and may not reflect the current population as students have dropped and been added since compiling this data, Rastello said.
The racial and ethnic demographics of current graduating high school seniors is one reason behind the tepid representation of Black students, said Erin Pullin, Chapman’s director of diversity & inclusion.
“The recruitment territories and regions Chapman visits, the experiences that prospective students have visiting and touring the campus, and what information prospective students know about in regard to Chapman likely have an impact on the recruitment, application, admission and enrollment processes,” Pullin said.
Chapman is focusing on five main initiatives to increase the number of African American students. These strategies focus on curriculum, recruitment, climate, community and institutional prioritization, according to Chapman’s 2017 Strategic Plan for Diversity & Inclusion.
However, while recruiting more Black students is the first step, offering a curriculum and culture that appeals to and supports African American students is also important, Slater said.
Some students may not find an environment in which they are a rarity appealing, leading to a chicken-and-egg problem when it comes to recruitment.
Some Black students with choices may prefer to be in schools where they are more robustly represented, observed Lucille Henderson, a sophomore communications major and secretary of the Black Students Union (BSU).
When deciding on a school, one’s decision “is a mix of noticing that there aren’t many Black students and not wanting to go because of that and obviously state schools and community colleges – they’re so much more diverse. So when you pick between thousands of dollars and feeling uncomfortable all the time or going to a school that is extremely diverse and won’t have to pay as much, the choice is clear,” Henderson said.
Though Henderson looked at the number of Black students when considering colleges, she chose Chapman because the school had everything she wanted in terms of academics, she said.
An initiative to assess an African Studies Minor is in the works for Chapman, according to the Strategic Plan for Diversity & Inclusion 2017-2018
Across the US, Blacks and Hispanics are often underrepresented on higher education campuses. Though plans such as Affirmative Action can help to increase ethnic diversity, a handful of states have voted against these policies. Among the eight states, California voted to ban race-based affirmative action at all public universities in 1996.
Underrepresentation at Chapman begins long before the college application process, according to Pullin.
Many elementary and secondary schools with a large population of Black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers and higher quality course materials. These high-quality schools help with closing achievement gaps for Black and Hispanic students and provide them with the opportunity to succeed in college and beyond, according to United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
But actively recruiting students from predominantly Black schools and offering more scholarship money can also increase representation on college campuses, Slater said.
Chapman officials say they plan to do that.
“Some of the populations Chapman seeks to grow through implementation of the plan include first-generation college students, and underrepresented students in the local community starting with Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Orange,” Pullin said.
By seeking recruitment within the school districts of Orange County, Chapman plans to increase the number of students from underprivileged and underrepresented communities.
This may be difficult as the population of Black students in the school district is also low. In 2016-2017: Only 1.6% of Orange County high school graduates identified as African American, according to Pullin.
“Scholarship opportunities will be expanded, particularly seeking to recruit students who may be struggling financially to access a college education,” Pullin said.
“(Being Black at Chapman) is difficult but it’s taught me how to be more comfortable in my own skin and to be different and to be proud of who I am,” said Samory Bailey, a senior strategic and corporate communications major and a member of BSU.
“Even without being racially diverse, you still have a lot of different types of people [at Chapman] with what they’re interested in and involved in. I’ve met a lot of people who are from out of the country and out of the state and a lot of faculty too,” Bailey said.
Henderson admits that it can be hard being part of a community in which those who don’t identify hold certain expectations of Black students.
“There is this unspoken assumption that you will be expected to speak every time issues surrounding the Black community arise as it is perceived that because you are part of that community you know everything there is about it- which is not necessarily true. It’s simply unreasonable to expect [someone] to speak on behalf of an entire race,” Henderson said.
Growing up in Oakland, Henderson knew many people of color in her community. To her, the word “diversity,” was rarely used: Diversity was a fact of life.
At Chapman, “it doesn’t bother me that I’m a minority. Sometimes it makes me proud of myself for overcoming the fact that I’m not as represented here and very blessed to even have a community here at all,” Henderson said.
Though she meets few Black people at Chapman, Henderson has still managed to learn a lot about Black identity, because African American folks tend to form an instant kinship, especially in environments where they are underrepresented, she said.
“I’ve never met Black people from the South, or Black people from the East Coast (before) and it’s a totally different culture. It’s interesting to see those different dynamics, how they live as Black people, and how their experience shaped areas of their life,” Henderson said.
“When you’re not constantly surrounded by that culture, you realize how much you love it and how much it’s important to your life and identity. In that way, (being at Chapman) helped,” Henderson said.
“While all of Chapman is getting better, I don’t think we can confidently say that Chapman is diverse. I feel very biased because I am coming from a very diverse city and I didn’t know that for the longest time but I also think of what I expect from a community. At a certain point, in terms of Black representation here, (Chapman) is just not diverse at all,” Henderson said.