Expanding efforts of diversity, inclusion

By Daily Illini Editorial Board

For a campus that emphasizes diversity, often we don’t feel the University meets this expectation. Diversity goes beyond bringing in a high number of students from other countries, which the University has done. Diversity also means having a vast representation of people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the University instituted Project 500, bringing in 500 African-American students as a way to encourage enrollment from the black community and set a benchmark for recruiting more black students. 

But recently the number of African-American students at the University has been declining. In 2014, only 356 of 945 accepted African-American freshmen enrolled in the University. This number compares to 719 Hispanic, 1352 Asian and 3198 white students this year. 

This decrease of African-American students has made us question not only whether the University’s diversity efforts are strong enough, but whether our campus is providing a welcome space for students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise has consistently voiced her efforts to expand diversity projects on campus to encourage conversation between students and faculty of different ages, religions, races, ethnicities, financial backgrounds and experiences. To her, diversity equates to excellence, and we agree. 

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In many ways, Wise’s projects have shown positive results. For the second straight year, the University was presented with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award for its projects on diversity and inclusion. Today, the University has more international students than ever before, roughly 22 percent of the student body population, who come from an abundance of different countries. 

Yet, what has us concerned is the falling number of African-American students, which sits at a mere 4.87 percent of the student body. 

The University should continue to focus on recruiting a diverse campus, and that includes African-American students. Our campus benefits from having people from diverse backgrounds. Classroom discussions and new ideas should be influenced by a variety of voices, and African-American students shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.  

While the University obviously has a role in this, there also needs to be a larger effort made by the campus community to create a welcoming, inclusive environment for black students.

We also think a more integrated campus could help promote and encourage people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together. And we want all students to feel comfortable here. 

We agree with Wise that diversity equals excellence. We believe the voices of a diverse student body population will lead our fellow students and professors to greater understanding, discussion and invention. 

The University definitely has a major part to play in making sure that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to come here, but our campus community also has an obligation to make sure people from all backgrounds feel welcome and are encouraged to be here.