Numbers Are Not Enough: Findings and Recommendations
September 2000 - May 2002
Introduction: An Exception or the Rule?
In their advisory capacity, the PCEMI commissioners hereby offer the Office of the President the following information and ideas based on the work of the Commission during the academic years 2000-2002. During this period, we have sampled opinions from ethnic minority groups and individuals, in the Commission meetings and in private conversations. We have also brought to the process the experiences of the commissioners themselves.
The members of the PCEMI are convinced that much as the university has given voice to a concern for diversity and a comfortable climate for all, our anecdotal evidence suggests that that may not be the case for perhaps significant numbers of ethnic minority staff, students, and faculty. While we cannot address the extent of the dissatisfaction, we hereby call upon the university to do so.
Latino Students: A Vocal Minority
Consider the experience of Maritza Gonzalez who is earning dual degrees at College Park in International Business and Communications Studies. Maritza is in her fourth year and plans to graduate in December 2002. She says, "I believe despite the fact that the University is aiming to obtain a diverse campus there is so much more that can be done."
Maritza says, "in my senior year at Montgomery Blair High School - which has a very diverse student population - I was very lucky to have a best friend that had siblings who had gone through the college application process and provided me with guidance. Even as an honors student with a 3.75 GPA, I never heard from a recruiter, nor met with one. Nonetheless, I submitted my application and I was accepted at the University of Maryland and to the College Park Scholars Public Leadership Program."
Maritza adds, "As a minority college student my experiences have been at times very frustrating." She says her frustration resulted from a feeling of "isolation" in a university, which has a cultural expectation, that is different from her experiences and the experiences of students like her.
"First of all, I was accepted into a program where I was expected to live in [the residential and] learning community for [College Park] Scholars. My parents, not knowing anything about college, refused to let their only daughter live on campus. In fact, they expected me to be home by 3 PM, just like I had in previous years. I felt completely isolated, I was a commuter, I was working part-time to pay for my tuition, and I came to a campus where I did not see many people that resembled me. I did not see any Latino students except when I attended LSU meetings. I also did not see any Latino teachers or advisors with the exception of Juan Regalado, a graduate assistant at the Office of Campus Programs and Events. Throughout the following three years I have seen a few more familiar faces, which makes me happy...but it's definitely not enough. The Latino population is rapidly growing in this state and as a state University this group should be represented in numbers here on campus."
- Email from Maritza Gonzales to PCEMI, March 22, 2002
Maritza is not alone. Representatives of the campus' Latino student population repeatedly say that Latino students at College Park experience a great deal of frustration and feelings of isolation. Indeed, as she spoke at a meeting of the President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues, one Latino student lamented the number of times these feelings and concerns have been expressed on campus - and demanded to know when something would be done and, specifically, when the PCEMI would do something. She was disdainful of reports and research about Latinos.
The students' concerns begin before coming to the University, with what they say is inadequate encouragement from high school counselors and teachers to go to college. The students also point out that often Latino parents don't have the knowledge to help sons and daughters remain motivated for college and for success in academics. While the University can do little about those factors, Latino students are concerned that University officials, especially advisors and counselors, have some knowledge of the general background from which the students come, i.e., most Latinos on American campuses are first-generation college students with educational, cultural and language barriers that hinder performance, according to the students who have contacted PCEMI.
Against that backdrop, the students say that the message the University is sending about tougher and higher standards poses a greater "obstacle for Latinos." And once here, they say there is not enough information about financial aid and resources for them.
What Latino Students Say the University Can Do
Latino student groups on campus offered the Commissioners the following specific suggestions for the University, ones they say will go a long way toward helping to ease their problems and lessen their feelings of isolation.
- During their visits to area high schools, University admissions representatives should meet with all possible Latino candidates in a small group setting or on an individual basis.
- Have admissions representatives explain that college is an attainable goal. Have them inform students directly of their prospects for attending Maryland.
- Present workshops emphasizing cultural and financial expectations of both students and parents.
- Involve parents in the admissions process to make the transition to college easier for Latino students.
Perhaps most important for the University to know is that Latino students want to be part of the admission process. They say many Latino student groups are willing to visit area schools but could use some training to be most effective.
The students also offered suggestions for three concrete steps the University can take to retain Latinos once they're in Maryland.
- Provide more guidance during the first year. This could be in the form of a new and specific guidance class, or it could be by the assignment of an advisor or mentor - someone Latino students know they can go to and feel that this person will be able to help them obtain the information they need.
- Provide more adequate financial aid information. Inform Latino students of Federal Work-Study opportunities, special circumstance appeals, etc.
- Provide more support for those offices charged with working with Latino students, particularly OMSE. Latino junior Ariel Oxman points out that "OMSE is the cultural office that deals with these issues. Create a component of OMSE so that when Latino students go there, OMSE will be able to give advice based on [knowledge of] what Latino students are experiencing. OMSE does not have enough support for Latino students."
OMSE Also is Among the Concerns of Asian-American Students at College Park
There are strong indications that the University might also understand more about the concerns of its Asian American students.
Doctoral candidate Marie Ting says, "The climate for Asian American students here is that they don't feel valued, and feel misunderstood. One example is that the students say OMSE doesn't understand the difference between Asians and Asian American students. They say, especially in OMSE, they hear, 'Gosh you speak English well.' They feel as though some staff people use them only when they need an Asian American face at the table."
Ting says Asian American students feel as if the campus, "operates on a black-white paradigm. They are seen more as white, but they have more issues and as many concerns as people of color - and they're not acknowledged." She concludes, "They feel misunderstood, undervalued, patronized. When there'd a racial incident on campus and a face is needed at the table, Asian Americans are used."
For these students, Asian American studies is an important issue with a low level of support - indicating, students say, that they are "not as valued." These students give credit to Dean Hampton as a "great supporter," but they say his "hands are tied, with only so much money to go around."
Recommendations from Asian American Students
- The students recommend that the University "evolve OMSE to cope with the different complexion of the campus."
- Set steps in motion so that the campus recognizes the difference between Asians and Asian Americans - thereby sending the message that Asian American culture is valued, that the Asian American experience is valued. One Asian American student related that a University administrator asked her what country she was from. There is a great deal of sensitivity to this issue among Asian American students at College Park.
- Hire Asian American faculty. The students note a "lack of urgency" to hire Asian Americans. They also note that there are "so few" in the humanities, and they cite studies that show students "need to see people like them." The students say they believe that the top has their positions "advocated for" they need to "see people who look like them."
- Hire staff members with the capacity to serve Asian American students. The position currently filled by a graduate student at the Office of Campus Programs, Asian American students say, could be a full-time position.
Recommendations: Native Americans
PCEMI commissioner Andrianna Stuart believes that for Native Americans at College Park the "overriding issue is that we're an invisible minority, statistically insignificant, cliched, and stereotyped."
Ms. Stuart says the problem is in the process of self-identification, and that because of self-identification, "the number of Native American students at Maryland comes out statistically at the national average." Ms. Stuart says that is erroneous, and that the University should make an attempt to determine the correct numbers. Stuart suggests that the University might consider the following:
- Recruit "authentic" Native Americans, using the advice and counsel of Native American members of PCEMI and others who understand the implications of the self-identification process.
- Offer history, government, politics, arts, and culture courses taught by Native American faculty.
- Make an effort to determine the special financial aid needs of Native American faculty.
- Lower the number of students necessary to comprise an SGA-sanctioned group so that Native American student groups might qualify.
- Provide the space and administrative support to re-institute the "annual pow wow" at Maryland.
- Examine more closely the role of OMSE in helping Native American Students because OMSE's efforts are "not adequate" OMSE, Stuart says, "tries hard to organize." but is guilty of "lots of unfulfilled promises."
How Widespread a Problem?
PCEMI suggests that the University consider that these and other concerns may be symptomatic of a problem that is more widespread on campus than the administration may realize. For a University that has expressed a desire for a "climate of comfort" for all, there is anecdotal evidence of widespread discomfort for some ethnic minorities at the University.
According to Dr. Jerry Lewis of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, "the environment at Maryland is not friendly."
Appearing before the President's Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues in March of 2001, Dr. Lewis said, "The idea of diversity must be more than an idea--it must be a plan with definite benchmarks." Lewis speaks of a system that holds people accountable. "If we say there's no diversity in this department, who do we hold accountable for not meeting that goal?" Lewis told the Commission that the "ideal of equity on this campus has never been given the respect it deserves." He says that while faculty "numbers are stable," there has "never been a Black vice president, and only one dean of long-standing, Bob Hampton. No Latinos."
PCEMI suggests that the University pay heed to those giving voice to what would seem to be a level of discomfort that still runs deep on the Colege Park campus.
An Issue that Lingers
Thirteen years ago, the University's administration requested a report that would be a "comprehensive study of the current status of our efforts to provide for the full participation of minorities in our community." That report was Access Is Not Enough: A Report to the President Concerning Opportunities for Blacks at the University of Maryland at College Park (Gillian, 1989). It concluded (1) "the College Park leads in providing access, but no results for Blacks in higher education;" that (2) "a chilly climate [existed] on campus for black faculty, students and staff," and that (3) "the College Park campus is in a unique position to be a model higher education institution with diversity in its student, curriculum and workforce." (Gillian, "Access Is Not Enough," transmittal letter dated October 18, 1989)
The "Climate" for Ethnic Minorities at UMD
In the spring and summer of 1989, in preparation for the "Access" report, open forums were held for black faculty, staff, and students. Those gatherings were rife with allegations of discrimination by staff employees.
Faculty reported that they were expected to teach and complete research in a competitive fashion, but were asked to provide considerably more service than their colleagues--taking time and energy away from the expected goal.
Moreover, then--as now--many minority faculty pursued careers in teaching in order to make a difference for students, as teachers, advisors, and role models. It is a widely reported fact that everywhere in the academy, ethnic minority faculty feel strongly that the divide between teaching and the demands of service and research is a particularly heavy burden. The demands of service are certainly high among the several issues to which ethnic minority faculty will give voice, when asked, at Maryland.
Consider these several cases in point--all occurring within the past several academic years:
- A minority female faculty member is routinely asked to contact "superstars" in her field on behalf of the head of her unit. She teaches a heavy course load, is assigned to an inordinate number of departmental committees, and is known as a hard worker and cooperative colleague. She feels as if she is "not valued" within her unit, "as if they're constantly looking for a 'name,' and overlooking what's here. I am here."
- As Asian American male tenure track faculty member has overheard racial epithets sent his way. Within that same unit, colleagues of the faculty member report an atmosphere that lends itself to such behavior.
- A tenured ethnic minority faculty member is told not to return to his class (in mid-semester) because a group of students has complained about that faculty member's teaching methods. The faculty member is rapidly replaced by an adjunct--without a hearing.
- Staff and junior colleagues accuse a senior faculty member--a member of an ethnic minority--of attempting to sabotage a particular program in which the faculty member has had no involvement. The accusations came from a staff member and a junior faculty member during a called meeting in a hostile atmosphere in which the minority faculty member felt "ambushed, treated very viciously. It was the most unfair treatment I've experienced anywhere. And it happened here in Maryland. I feel isolated within my unit because of it.
In 2002, that sense of isolation is very much like the "chilly climate" described in the Access report of 1989. Thirteen years later, we suggest that there is a certain irony in the fact that the general tone and anguish of the old "climate" assessments can be found in these and other remarks to PCEMI.
At the mid-point in the two-year term of the present chair of PCEMI, the commissioners held what is called a "Speakout." This is an open forum in a nonthreatening atmosphere, where people are encouraged to express their concerns to sympathetic listeners who may also have strong concerns to express. There is an open microphone, and a person or persons who act as facilitators. Facilitators do not attempt to counter any arguments the attendees may wish to make. The atmosphere is open and openly empathetic.
PCEMI's April 2001 Speakout was attended by dozens of students and staff. Some staff said they had been "afraid" to attend fear for fear of retribution within their units. But they said it was worth the perceived risk to join the gathering to express their feelings.
Notable was the near absence of minority faculty among those in attendance.
Perhaps most stunning--and poignant--was this statement from a minority male facilities worker:
I have two daughters, and they don't want to come here [to Maryland]. They hear so much about racism. If I could go somewhere else, I probably would leave. I don't think you're being treated as a human being here. It's about dignity. It's about how I feel about myself. The reason people don't come out is fear of management.
At that event, campus staff employees were uniformly demoralized in their outlook, accusing the University of "embedded racism," of "only seeing a problem when the problem is in their face," and of not thinking "out of the box."
For these workers, College Park is a climate that "Definitely doesn't doesn't motivate the workers," and is "disheartening." For them, "everything trickles down from the administration," which "handles diversity in PR kinds of ways."
The workers said, "We need diversity of image and diversity of action," that "we have no managers of color and two black supervisors--it comes down to nepotism." They said, "Anything dealing with African Americans--people feel intimidated. You can't explain your case."
They demanded to know when the administration is "going to be more proactive," "do things that make common sense," and stop "telling us you're going to do something and then don't do it."
They said, "There needs to be research done in terms of what's to be done about all this," and added that "the administration has been presented with research and does nothing about it."
Students at the Speakout event were similarly outspoken about their feelings and concerns.
Perhaps the bluntest expression came from a sophomore who accused the University of "lip service" on the subject of diversity. He was among students who spoke of the University reacting only to "pressure situations."
The students said their suggestions to improve the areas of concern have been ignored. They wondered aloud whether there are "model schools that we can model ourselves after," and worried that "we're going to move in the direction of UVA and Duke," which they said are "even less advanced" in the area of diversity.
Asian Pacific student representatives in attendance lamented the presence of what they then considered to be inadequate attention to their particular needs. They were particularly critical of OMSE, feeling that the office is not staffed or "equipped" to carry out its role.
Students of every ethnic minority group accused the University's leadership of "doing nothing about" the research with which it is presented. They called for a closer look at retention rates and the cause of attrition. They cited "serious problems among the African American and Latino communities."
In all, for those present, it was a negative and bleak picture of life at the University. How many others did they represent? How many workers and students feel similarly? We don't know. But if these workers and students were the proverbial tips of the iceberg. then--again--frustration and isolation run as deep on the College Park campus as these feelings did in 1989. Indeed, it would serve a valuable purpose to know just how different attitudes are today than they were then, with empirical data to substantiate the perceptions noted in the findings. Those data were unavailable in 1989. If Maryland is to live out its creed of a comfortable climate for all, the time may have come for the University to collect such data--to really determine how its many ethnic minority residents measure the climate of the campus.
Recommendations from the President's Commission
As stated, Access Is Not Enough, concluded that the College Park campus leads in providing access, but no results for ethnic minorities; that "a chilly climate" existed on campus for minority faculty, students, and staff, and that the College Park campus was "in a unique position to be a model higher education institution with diversity in its student's curriculum and workforce."
The work of PCEMI during the term of the present Chair and her predecessor indicated that 13 years since it was written, the statement remains all too true today on the College Park Campus.
PCEMI recognizes and respects both the spirit and the deeds of the University's administration in furthering diversity and greater tolerance at College Park. But while the campus has made great strides by the numbers, we think that the numbers are not enough. Our evidence indicates that the "chilly climate" remains. In the face of some very real progress, it may be tempting for the College Park campus to relegate these concerns to "the few who will always complain." True, there are those people. But we believe that something far more serious exists on this campus in terms of the "chilly climate." We urge that the Administration adopt a stance that all is not necessarily well.
We recommend the following:
- At a minimum, be open to the idea of more examination of this central issue.
- Collect data.
- Give careful attention to the questions that are put. The wrong questions may lead in the wrong directions.
- Make the questioning and the data-seeking regular and ongoing--part of what the University does.
Conclusion: Numbers are not Enough
The University of Maryland is now looked upon as a leader in diversity. We would argue, however, that no one "does" diversity comprehensively. Various institutions do various things well. We need to understand exactly what it is we do well, and we need to admit what we haven't done well.
Maryland might also understand that the "climate" of an institution or organization is something that shifts and changes constantly. We should not confuse climate with culture. We need to ask if we aren't really talking about the culture of the University of Maryland--one that has long been ingrained, one whose reputation follows the University, and one that for some--perhaps many--citizens of the College Park campus demands change. The task is to determine how many of our campus citizens see a need for a change in the culture of the University, where those people are, and what they believe should be done
A good beginning would be to examine the strongly held convictions of Latino, Asian American, and other ethnic minority students and, as the investigators on the 1968 Kerner Commission were charged, listen to them.
From that beginning, we urge a systematic examination of the University's culture at every level, in every classification--students, staff, faculty--for ethnic minorities. We urge that the ultimate aspiration of this University be to have an administration that more closely resembles the demographic of the state, and of the nation.
Finally, we would say that it is our conviction that when the University of Maryland truly knows its people and cares for their concerns, it will become as great as it aspires to be in this and all areas.
Respectfully submitted, Lee Thornton, Chair, President's Commission of Ethnic Minority Issues
For the Commissioners:
- Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston
- Dr. Evelyn Canabal Torres
- Ms. Denise Cross
- Ms. Traci Dula
- Mr. Jim Newton
- Dr. Terri Reed
- Ms. Cassandra Robinson
- Ms. Andrianna Stuart
- Mr. Alan Santos
- Ms. Marie Ting
- Ms. Irene Zoppi