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Students Discuss Diversity on Campus

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Photo credit: Kody Kieler

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Written by: Mikaela ConleyFebruary 15, 2017

In 2015, 82 percent of students enrolled at IPFW were white.

According to official IPFW statistics, 4.3 percent of the students were black in 2015; 0.3 percent were American Indian/Alaskan native;  2.7 percent were Asian; 5.4 were hispanic or latino; 2.6 percent were considered two or more races; 2.8 were considered other or alien; and only four out of 12,719 students were native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

Hideto Tanimura, the LGBTQAI+ Resource Center program coordinator and treasurer for the Black Student Union, said IPFW is not a diverse campus and the university needs to do more to fix that.

BSU and the Office of Diversity and Multicultural affairs work diligently to promote cultural awareness around campus.

In spirit of Black History Month, BSU has been screening the documentary “Hidden Colors” in increments starting on Feb. 1. The final part of the documentary, which explores the untold history of people of color, according to its website, will be shown from 5 to 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in Walb room 114.

BSU will also be discussing Mental Health in the Black Community from noon to 1 p.m. Feb 15 in Walb 114 and taking a bus trip to the African American Museum in Detroit from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 25. All students are invited on the trip and can contact the ODMA for more information.

While there has been controversy about whether the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate group or a support group, BSU supports its overall message and Tanimura said they hope to bring awareness to injustice.

“BSU’s intent is never to antagonize anyone; It’s about education on who we are,” Tanimura said. “Racism didn’t go anywhere, it just got quiet and changed its appearance.”

Tanimura came to IPFW as part of the National Student Exchange program from Prairie View A&M in Texas. He said he liked the campus so much he decided to stay.

But, he said his background and experiences give him a unique view on racism and race issues that a lot of people in the Midwest may not have. Prairie View was labeled a Historically Black College or University, compared to a Predominantly White Institution.

Tanimuro was expecting to go do cultural studies in Guam as his National Student Exchange experience; however, he ended up in Fort Wayne and switched his detail work over to how HBCU student life differs from PWI life.

“I instantly realized that I came to IPFW with the wrong approach because this is a very unique campus,” he said.

While IPFW is a four-year school, it caters toward a lot of nontraditional students or adults coming back to school for additional training for their jobs.

When he came here in 2014, the retention rate for minorities was lower than the national average, he said. Of the amount of people here, IPFW has about 13 percent diversity, yet most of them are transient students, or exchange/transfer students.

“How is it that a majorly associated university has so many problems with minorities?” he asked, referring to the lack of diversity. “Bring forward the appetite to discuss these things, to make it a known permanent part of the fabric that is IPFW, not just a fraction.”

Tanimura, from Texas where he said race issues are more prominent than in the Midwest, has dealt with racism firsthand.

As a child he was always told that as a black man in the U.S. you shouldn’t go anywhere without three things: your watch, your wallet with ID, and your cellphone. This way you can prove who you are, where you were at what time, and then be able to always call for help or record something if need be.

Tanimura’s father is Japanese and his mother is black but his aunt once said to him, “Welcome to your reality. You are mixed, which we don’t know if that makes it worse for you or better for you. No matter how good you are, no matter how light-skinned you are — you’re black. Especially when something goes wrong — you’re black.”

Not all students, however, see a major concern with diversity at IPFW; at least multiple didn’t until they were shown the statistics.

Ha Le, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said she didn’t think there was a diversity issue before being shown the stats. But after being shown the numbers, she said IPFW should do more to increase cultural awareness and diversity.

“The only global thing that we do is the global celebration thing like once a year, so I think we should do more of that,” she said.

Ken Christmon, associate vice chancellor for admissions and diversity, said IPFW has already seen positive results from efforts to increase diversity on campus.

Christmon said the No.1 thing that is important in order to recruit students is just being a successful institution that graduates successful students, and then those stories carry.

Recruiters also travel around the state to recruit students, including schools that have concentrated areas of minorities. Christmon said recruiters have started traveling what they call the U.S. 69 corridor, stopping at schools all the way to Indianapolis and the U.S. 30 corridor all the way past Warsaw and Plymouth to more diverse schools in Merrillville, Gary and Chicago.

“Diversity is a powerful component to the classroom. If everybody looked the same, thought the same and came from the same experience, then we would be doing our graduates a disservice,” Christmon said. “So admissions is committed to not only recruiting students broadly but we are also dedicated to also expanding ourselves geographically to give Purdue Fort Wayne an opportunity to have a more diverse student body. “

This year admissions has an initiative to drive student enrollment to 300-plus students, coming from multiple countries, he said.

“So at the end of the day we have always been a diverse university. Now we are trying to become more diverse … to reflect America,” he said.

IPFW also moved to the common app this year, an internationally accessible open database that allows potential students to submit applications to multiple universities at once. Christmon said this has already shown to increase both diversity and enrollment numbers in general.

“We are today where we were in April of last year (when it comes to applications received); we are two months ahead; we have more applications; we have more higher-achieving students.”