Diversity and inclusion officer talks status of diversity on campus, provides reality to retention rates

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 6:00 PM

When Diversity and Inclusion Officer Terrence Mitchell stepped into his office for the first time on Tuesday, Jan. 7, he was tasked with three objectives by interim university president Michael Hannan: 

1. Increase the population of underrepresented minorities in the student body, along with in the first generation students.

2. Do the same for employees. 

3. Try to create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Mitchell got right to work.

On Friday, Feb. 22, after a little more than a month in office, he presented the findings of a preliminary report on diversity at Edinboro University. A few weeks later, on March 11, The Spectator sat down with Mitchell to talk diversity on campus, his plans for the next year, and what he sees diversity developing into at Edinboro in the next few years. 

But first, he started with a broader issue. His “largest concern” is the loss of freshman students. This loss impacts the general student population, along with students of color and underrepresented minorities. “Right now, we’ve been losing up to 40-50 percent of the class for the last four to five years.”

According to university records, more specifically, the second-year retention rate for students of color at Edinboro has been in decline since Fall 2013, where 66.9 percent of students were retained; in Fall 2014, 62.3 percent were retained; in Fall 2015, 56.9 percent were retained; and in Fall 2016, there was a slight increase as 61 percent were retained. 

These numbers reflect a nationwide decrease in college enrollment. Across the board, African-American students, and students from underrepresented populations are losing interest in college, according to Mitchell. The only population that is steadily increasing in terms of college attendance is the Hispanic student population. 

Mitchell likes to emphasize the numbers by bringing them down to reality, “Let’s say you were a freshman that year (Fall 2013). That means that you lost one of your best friends, and if everybody lost one, that affects your experience on campus. Retention is not just about keeping students, it’s also about having a satisfactory experience for the ones who stay. You want to keep your peers. I don’t know if anyone looked at these numbers in that way. We need to get better at retaining our students.”

He continued: “Another concern is if we want to diversify our faculty, where are we going to get those faculty from? Because everyone wants to diversify their faculty. I do know that we pay more than New York state for entry-level faculty, so that is a place to look. I believe that we have Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Erie to our advantage.”  

Mitchell says that Edinboro has the structures in place to grow. “I think that Edinboro already has good programs in place...I think that the presidential councils on diversity, women and LGBT+ issues are good. I also think that the Frederick Douglass Institute is a wonderful program, and I’ve been working with the advisors for that program.” 

Edinboro’s population of students of color is small, says Mitchell, however, because of that, the community is strong. 

“You guys (students of color) get along here,” Mitchell said. 

However, he sees his job as taking the responsibility off of students’ shoulders. “We need to make sure that students feel comfortable coming to us and letting us know about students who are in trouble.” 

“Your job as students are to graduate,” Mitchell said. 

Noted issues don’t have to be large; he recounted a story of an African-American student not being able to get their hair cut in Edinboro. “If we have 20-30 students saying they can’t get haircuts, it’s just a matter of them letting us know and getting a bus up to Erie so that they can get haircuts.” 

An additional issue Mitchell presented during his Feb. 22 session was the amount of programing that occurs on campus. “We do a lot of programing here, but more is not always better, I’d rather have less programing and have those [programs] be really good.” 

Mitchell has been at Edinboro University for almost two months now, and he says that in the next few months he will continue to work with various campus members in order to get an idea of what everybody is doing. “We need people to start talking to each other,” Mitchell said. Mitchell is open to students, faculty and staff coming in and talking to him. He can be contacted at tamitchell@edinboro.edu.

Shayma Musa | eupnews.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: diversity

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