A homogeneous campus

GVSU lacks ethnic diversity

By Peter Chhum | 1/29/14 9:43pm

Grand Valley State University has a diverse collection of buildings — academic and professional, big and small, old and new. GVSU also has a diverse gathering of eating options from Papa Johns to Subway and campus dining. But how diverse is the student population?

Statistically, the cultural breakdown of the student body proves to be quite homogeneous. According to the GVSU Office of Institutional Analysis, 91 percent of the undergraduate population reported to be white.

The next highest demographic is African Americans at 7 percent. Hispanic students make up 4.4 percent of undergraduate students and Asian or Pacific Islanders are at 3.3 percent.

The smallest ethnic group is American Indians or Alaskan Natives at 1.8 percent. Students are allowed to report more than one ethnicity and can be counted in multiple demographics.

To some, this level of diversity is not well seen.

“I’m halfway through my junior year and in over half of my classes I have been in, I am the only non-white person sitting in class,” said junior Grayson Deyoung. “Every time I’m in class with another minority student, we end up talking about this fact that we always have in common. There needs to be a greater sense of community that goes beyond racial barriers.”

Dmitri Westbrook is a graduate assistant through Freshmen Academy, an organization aimed to assist underrepresented students with the transition from high school to college.

Westbrook said he tells incoming students that they will likely experience culture shock at GVSU.

“There is a clear distinction between being diverse and having diversity,” Westbrook said. “Diversity means that you do have people of different backgrounds and people who know different languages. It is different to say we have diversity on campus compared to ‘we are a diverse campus.‘”

GVSU houses different cultural groups to help spread knowledge and awareness for students who have an affinity for cultural exploration, but some feel these groups are not enough and do not reflect the image of diversity depicted on the university’s brochures and advertisements.

Jennifer Stewart, a professor in GVSU’s sociology department, is the founder and director of the theatre group, “Act on Racism.” The social justice group focuses on bringing awareness to racial prejudice and discrimination.

Stewart noted that discussions of race and ethnicity are often touchy, and many students and faculty try not to address them in an effort to hide the issue.

“Race is one of the few things we don’t talk about,” Stewart said.

This train of thought comes from the common misconception that if we don’t talk about it, and if we don’t address it, then the issue will go away, she said.

While diversity tends to mean a great deal of cultural variety, and in this case, a multicultural institution, a large misconception of the term is the disparity between diversity and community.

For the second consecutive year, students and faculty were given the day off of classes to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In light of the celebratory atmosphere surrounding King’s work and legacy, the question remains: has King’s famous dream truly become a reality more than 50 years later?


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