University of Oregon’s population of black students hovers around 2 percent. It’s been that way since 1986.
Black students are not seeing other black students around campus, and many are left feeling like outsiders in classrooms and corridors of UO. Black student groups are fighting to change this.
Arthur Dickson, coordinator of the Black Male Alliance, knows the personal and complex difficulties UO’s 472 black students encounter on this campus.
“From January until now, from [Black Male Alliance] alone, six people have left and gone home because they can’t stand the climate at University of Oregon,” Dickson said. His frustration with UO’s stagnant numbers of black students has reached a critical level. He is disappointed and feels that strategies scheduled to begin Fall Term 2016 are too late for some of his peers.
Another student feeling frustration about her situation is Akiva Hillman, co-coordinator of the Black Student Union. She views UO’s current climate as difficult and unwelcoming for black students. Hillman centers her frustrations around the isolation she feels as a member of one of the universities smallest minority groups.
“I think a lot of the reasons we don’t have black students on campus, just in the first case, are retention problems and cultural competency issues that a lot of the professors and admin don’t really carry in this campus,” Hillman said. “African American students aren’t eager to come here because it’s not a place where we are comfortable.”
Her work at BSU focuses on helping black community members at UO by creating awareness and building community ties through social engagement. They recently held a big event in the Wheeler Pavilion at the Lane Events Center.
On May 7, over 500 community members and students filled the auditorium for the fourteenth Annual Divine Nine Step Show. By 5 p.m. nearly every seat in the house was filled.
Nate Jackson, comedian and emcee of the event, believes events like the ADNSS mean everything to the black community.
“If you look around, it’s vibrant,” Jackson said. “This is about recruitment and retention. Look at all the young kids, they’re already wearing colors and letters. All you’re doing is adding to your own legacy of your university, so it means everything.”
UO President Michael Schill recently sent an open letter to the campus community listing steps the university will take beginning fall term of 2016 to better accommodate a more enriched community for black students at the college.
Schill plans to bolster the number of black students at the university with stronger recruitment strategies, the implementation of a student advisory group, increased number of black speakers on campus and inviting six of the nine historically black fraternities to join Greek Life at UO.
Assistant Dean of Students Quantrell Willis sees Schill’s letter as proof that the school is putting the appropriate resources towards a more culturally competent environment for students at UO.
“President Schill’s recent announcement regarding the various commitments that the University of Oregon is making in response to the Black Student Task Force’s list of demands sends a great message about the U of O’s commitment to creating an inclusive campus for Black students,” he said.