UM not doing enough on racial disparity

There are four words that I’ve been conditioned to accept here at the University of Maryland. Whether it’s a campus-wide Wi-Fi outage or another discrepancy pertaining to New Leonardtown’s water supply, these same four words still stand: “We’re working on it.” This is a fitting response in minuscule situations, but these four words don’t work when there’s a major disparity that’s been sustained over time and needs to be addressed. The percentage of Maryland’s African-American high school graduates, 36 percent, compared to the 12 percent of African-Americans who are undergraduates at UMD, is an issue no matter how you dress it up (“Black student enrollment lags at University of Maryland,” Jan. 29).

University of Maryland’s black student enrollment lags for many reasons, including a disparity between the high schools black students are coming from, whether these students go off to college and if they even desire to come to the university. But these categories should not be used as parameters to make numbers prettier for donors. A vital part of enrollment is application; removing those who did not apply to College Park from the percentage does not erase the problem, nor does highlighting the percentage’s “exclusion” of private school graduates who already have an advantage. Categorization should not be the focus, understanding why the disparity exists should be the goal.

As a University of Maryland undergraduate, I have to ask myself this question: Why aren’t Maryland’s black students applying to attend the University of Maryland? I’m reminded of the answer every time I think about my experiences here so far. Campus life is a huge culprit, and although high school students can’t experience it directly, the administration’s way of handling on-campus incidents lets them know exactly how they’ll be treated. When donors are the main cause of concern instead of those who are affected, it doesn’t help much either. Anytime something happens on campus, we go through a cycle of incident, email from the administration, tweet from the administration, and the cycle repeats itself; more often than you’d think.

When a white member of Kappa Sigma fraternity sent out an email in support of rape culture, while also using derogatory terms to describe people of color, we were told “we’re working on it.” When campus police pepper sprayed into a graduation party, made up mostly of black students, we were told “we’re working on it.” When Lt. Richard Collins III was murdered, on campus, by the hands of a white supremacist who attended the university, we were told “we’re working on it.”

These incidents haven’t pulled me from my goals here on campus, but they definitely haven’t made things easier. The administration will always assure us that they’re “working on it,” but it’s time to stop working on it and get it done!

Amari Harris, College Park

The writer is an Incentive Awards Scholar in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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