The University of Nebraska-Lincoln strives to improve racial diversity

Multimedia story by Katie Knight, Jason Lubken, Jordan Huesers and Jake Sueflohn, NewsNetNebraska

Editor’s note: This year, NewsNetNebraska reporters are looking at diversity issues at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and across Nebraska in a series of multimedia reports designed to promote greater awareness and understanding. The following report is one of our diversity stories.

Searching for Diversity at UNL from CoJMC on Vimeo.

Administrators see growth in racial diversity on campus

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, eight out of every 10 students in the sea of red is white, according to

“I’ve definitely noticed that walking around campus, the majority of the people you see are white, or appear white,” elementary education major Riley McQueen said.

Some students – particularly nonwhite students – find the lack of diversity stifling. Juan Franco, vice chancellor for student affairs at UNL, said that while UNL has struggled – and still struggles – with creating a diverse environment, he has seen improvement in his years at the university.

“We’re not seeing as many students of color take advantage of college that you’d expect from even the normal population,” Franco said. “But we are seeing improvement and that’s a good thing.”

Although the progress has been slow, Franco said finding a solution to this nationwide problem has proven incredibly difficult.

“There’s no easy answer,” Franco said. “If there was, we would have solved it already.”

Franco said there are several aspects to this diversity problem. First off, Nebraska as a whole isn’t all that diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the ratio of whites to nonwhites  in Nebraska is represented well by UNL. A total of 80 percent of Nebraska’s residents are white.

Second, Franco said, when UNL gets students of color to come to the university, many times they don’t feel at home there. He said getting students involved in clubs and activities on campus is what is key to a higher retention rate for these particular students.

“What we know is that students who get involved with the university, no matter what it is they’re involved with, they’re more likely to succeed,” Franco said. “They’re more likely to feel happy here and stay until they graduate. If they don’t, they just walk away.”

James Kirkland, interim director of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center, agrees and said much of the responsibility falls on the university’s upper administration.

“We can’t just tell them, ‘Oh we really appreciate having you guys here,’” Kirkland said. “Do something. Show them.”

Kirkland, who has been a member of UNL faculty for 34 years, said he feels frustrated about the way race has been handled across the country.

“I know race is never going to go away, but I’m waiting the for when people are going to talk about it,” Kirkland said. “When are we going to get real about the issue as opposed to sweeping it under the door and pretending it doesn’t exist?”

Students give perspectives on the university’s racial diversity

Senior advertising and public relations and broadcast major Aaron Wong, who is of Asian descent, said he doesn’t feel completely overwhelmed as a nonwhite student, but definitely notices the disparity on most days.

“I think there is a pretty good spread of different ethnic groups across campus and there is evidently a lot of foreign exchange students,” Wong said. “However, the majority of students are white but that’s something that is to be expected; the push for diversity becomes too extensive when white people don’t get included for the sake of being diverse.”

Freshman biological studies major Emma Ebito, who has a white mother and a Nigerian father, said she is accustomed to being an extreme minority after growing up in southeast Nebraska. Ebito was one of 33 African-American students at Lincoln East High School, and she said making the transition into UNL wasn’t anything she couldn’t handle.

“If anything coming here was a bit of a culture shock,” Ebito said. “I have met many more other people of color. I don’t necessarily feel not well represented but of course being a minority, there are much less opportunities to be (represented) because there are much less of us. I feel like the university is inclusive, at least in everything I am involved in but…I don’t feel like I’ve able to experience enough yet to speak for everyone.”

Untitled Infographic (5)

Senior marketing major Wei Jiang, who is of Asian descent, said because UNL is located in a region not known for its diversity or for being as accepting as other parts of the country, the university’s efforts to change the negative cultural perceptions often times fall on deaf ears.

“To the majority, the Caucasian population and those who hail from the Midwest, it seems like UNL is trying to change and cater to those that come from a diverse background,” he said. “But to someone who can’t check off as an ethnic majority, it has the feel of a glorified pat on the back, a ‘We’re at least trying, so good for us.'”

Jiang said he’s seen the number of ethnic students grow, on both international and domestic levels.

“Increasing numbers is one thing, changing a culture that has been rooted for years is another,” he said. “I can applaud this university’s effort, but until it actually launches a successful campaign to change perceptions instead of half baked attempts such as the ‘Not Here, Not Now’ campaign of a couple years ago, everything else just seems artificial.”

Jiang said within his time at the university, he has felt tangible changes within the culture surrounding diversity on campus. He said the past few years have been a sandstorm of media attention surrounding the racial development throughout the country, and new discussions that unearth years of implicit social injustices are being brought to light.

“It is absolutely necessary in today’s world to get real world experience in interacting with those from other cultures,” he said. “College should afford each and every student the opportunity to meet, befriend, learn and experience people from other cultures and how to interact accordingly. By constantly striving for greater diversity ad cultural acceptance, it better prepares the students for future work in a global society.”

Administrators hope to prepare students for world outside of college

Kirkland said not having diverse peers at the university keeps students from preparing themselves for what they’ll face in their careers and places outside Nebraska.

“I want to see faculty and staff try to prepare their students for a world outside of here,” Kirkland said. “You can only stay here so long, and we have a responsibility – as quiet as it’s kept – to prepare you for life.

“Young people come here with dreams. ‘I wanna be this, I wanna do that.’ OK, well this is the place to lay the foundation of acquiring an education.”

Franco said he hopes to see UNL accurately representing the various races and ethnicities, and to see students of color feel at home and comfortable.

“The ideal would be that we just don’t have to worry about these things, that diversity wasn’t even an issue anymore,” Franco said. “But it will always be an issue. In order for that to happen, we’d have to solve the issue nationwide, beyond higher education.”

Race/ethnicity of college faculty

What about the race/ethnicity of college and university faculty and staff?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in the fall of 2013, the most recent year available, there were 1.5 million faculty in American degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 51 percent were full-time and 49 percent were part-time. Faculty include professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors, lecturers, assisting professors, adjunct professors, and interim professors.

Percentage distribution of full-time instructional faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by academic rank, selected race/ethnicity, and sex: Fall 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015 (NCES 2015-144), Characteristics of Postsecondary Faculty.

The 25 Most Diverse U.S. Universities

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, (2013-2014 school year- the most recent available), we identified the 25 U.S. colleges with at least 20,000 students that had the highest percentage of minority students. Ethnicity data is collected by each school via self-reporting from students. Each university’s minority percentage includes students who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian/Alaskan or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

Students who do not report their ethnicity were categorized as “Unknown” and are also not included in the overall minority percentage. International students, regardless of ethnicity, were not included in a school’s minority percentage.

#25. CUNY Hunter

Location: New York, NY
Total students: 23,019

#24. Valencia College

Location: Orlando, FL
Total students: 42,180

#23. UC San Diego

Location: La Jolla, CA
Total students: 29,517

#22. Everest University-South Orlando

Location: Orlando, FL
Total students: 29,693

#21. Georgia State University

Location: Atlanta, GA
Total students: 32,165

#20. California State University-Sacramento

Location: Sacramento, CA
Total students: 28,811

#19. California State University-Northridge

Location: Northridge, CA
Total students: 38,310

#18. University of Houston

Location: Houston, TX
Total students: 39,540

#17. San Francisco State University

Location: San Francisco, CA
Total students: 29,905

#16. California State University-Fullerton

Location: Fullerton, CA
Total students: 38,325

#15. San Jose State University

Location: San Jose, CA
Total students: 31,278

#14. California State University-Fresno

Location: Fresno, CA
Total students: 23,060

#13. University of Texas at San Antonio

Location: San Antonio, TX
Total students: 28,623

#12. UC Irvine

Location: Irvine, CA
Total students: 28,895

#11. California State University-Long Beach

Location: Long Beach, CA
Total students: 35,586

#10. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Location: Pomona, CA
Total students: 22,501

#9. Broward College

Location: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Total students: 43,883

#8. University of Hawaii at Manoa

Location: Honolulu, HI
Total students: 20,006

#7. UC Riverside

Location: Riverside, CA
Total students: 21,207

#6. California State University-Los Angeles

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Total students: 23,258

#5. Florida International University

Location: Miami, FL
Total students: 47,663

#4. University of Texas at El Paso

Location: El Paso, TX
Total students: 23,003

#3. Miami Dade College

Location: Miami, FL
Total students: 66,298

#2. University of Texas-Pan American

Location: Edinburg, TX
Total students: 20,053

#1. South Texas College

Location: McAllen, TX
Total students: 31,232

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