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Larger Black Enrollment an Elusive Dream for University of Washington

Larger Black Enrollment an Elusive Dream for University of Washington 


      Nearly four decades after Larry Gossett led a successful push to recruit more Black students to the University of Washington, African-Americans account for less than 3 percent of the overall student body.

      This academic year, there are just 118 Black freshmen in a class of nearly 5,000, the lowest number since 1999 and fewer even than when Gossett — then a student leader, now a King County council member — was recruiting.

      The UW is keeping pace with Black enrollment rates at Washington State University and Eastern Washington University but has fallen behind the rate at The Evergreen State College, a liberal arts school in Olympia.

      Yet Seattle is home to nearly 10 times the number of Black citizens as Olympia, Ellensburg and Spokane combined. UW faculty numbers are even lower: Just 1.7 percent of tenure-track faculty members are Black.

      “We thought we had the potential and we were audacious enough to believe that we could humanize, democratize and make the university more accountable to all the citizens of Washington, but it appears we did not,” Gossett told The Seattle Times.

      UW administrators say the fall 2005 freshman numbers represent one unusually bad year, yet acknowledge a broader problem.

      “No one at the UW would say, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived, and this is where we want things,”’ said Philip Ballinger, the school’s admissions director. “Clearly, our students, our faculty, we all recognize it’s an area we need to make improvements to.”

      Some administrators think the UW’s low Black enrollment rate could be tied to the 1998 passage of Initiative 200, which prohibits the use of race as an admissions factor. The number of Black freshmen plunged in 1999, but had been increasing until 2005.

      Black students at the UW say they often feel like objects of curiosity. But David Monroe, 20, a sophomore from Tacoma, said he liked his freshman dorm experience because it exposed him to new types of people — and them to him.

      Tonya Bryant, 19-year-old freshman from Bothell, was surprised to find her African-American studies lecturer was White. The class was apologetically told that a lot of Black faculty were leaving.

      “We lost two [Black ] senior professors last year, and when we lose two, it’s a lot,” said Rusty Barceló, the UW’s vice president for minority affairs. “We find we retain assistant professors but sometimes lose them when they’re promoted to associate professors. They’re often lured away.”

      Barceló said recruiters did a good job last year finding Black students, but she and others were “stunned” when only half of those offered slots accepted.

      Part of the reason, she said, is the UW cannot compete with scholarships offered at places like Stanford University and the University of Michigan.

      UW President Mark Emmert said he’s been making significant investments in recruitment and retention efforts and in the campus Office of Minority Affairs. He and other senior staff members are trying to figure out what caused the dip in 2005 Black freshman numbers and make improvements this year.

      And the Provost’s Office is adding a staff position to try to increase minority faculty numbers.

— Associated Press

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