Black students, white colleges

BETWEEN 1976 and 1984 the number of black students at predominantly white colleges fell from 9.6 percent to 8.4 percent, according to a 1986 report by The Chronicle of Higher Education. This drop raised questions about whether white colleges can meet minority needs and prompted the present moves to intensify minority recruitment. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has called the downward trend a ``tragedy for the nation.'' In this day of supposed equality and opportunity for all, it is. Are white colleges doing their best to recruit minorities? Can minorities cope in the setting of a white college?

I am a black woman in her first year at a predominantly white college. Just a year ago, I had to face the difficult decision of where to pursue my education. I wanted to attend a small liberal arts college with a reputable and varied academic program, a strong international and cultural component, and several established extracurricular groups. I certainly cannot speak for all black students. Others may want a larger school, a big city, or a larger percentage of blacks in the student body than the 3.9 percent at Davidson, which is unfortunately about average for such colleges.

Since colleges are trying to increase their minority enrollment, one must ask whether the desire is sincere, or whether it aims merely to fulfill a minority quota by any feasible means.

While it is true that I was pursued more determinedly because I was black, I can truly say that the four predominantly white colleges that recruited me the hardest (Oberlin, Swarthmore, Davidson, and Mills) did not waive any entrance requirements. I resent the suggestion that they did, because it implies that minorities are academically inferior to whites. Numerous minorities have achieved academically on a status equal to whites. I earned my admittance and scholarship through hard work and determination, because I knew that only I could help myself.

We now come to the question of how - how did white colleges recruit me? First of all, I took the initiative by sending out information cards in the 10th grade and by attending college fairs. In the years to follow, I received many letters and many phone calls from students, alumni, and faculty members. The flood intensified, to the point that I had several large boxes full of catalogs in my senior year. I was a bit flattered by the attention, but I knew that I had to make a very careful decision and choose what would be best for me.

The admissions officers with whom I talked were very capable and helpful people. By their arrangement, I visited all four colleges where I was accepted. The travel was exciting and revealed to me things that catalogs and telephone conversations could not provide.

Throughout the entire recruitment process, I noticed practices by several colleges which undermine their claim that they want to increase their minority enrollment. For example, the majority of admissions officers recruiting in Atlanta (I'm from the suburb of East Point) were from the eastern part of the United States. In this predominantly black city, where were the college representatives from the central and Western states?

Several colleges visit only private or specialized high schools, while the majority of Atlanta's black students attend public high schools. Ignoring good students is a mistake. White colleges must make a commitment to be sincere in their endeavors and to make provisions with which to achieve and maintain that goal.

On the other hand, colleges cannot be blamed entirely for not making the contact with academic minorities. We minorities must take the initiative to work hard and successfully in high school to develop the educational capacity that would make us competitive with all students, and to gain the means with which we can complete our education. We lose only if we don't try.

Fortunately, my college application process resulted favorably, and I am now working hard here at Davidson. In addition to my classes, I keep busy with writing news releases for the college relations office, playing clarinet in the wind ensemble, and socializing with friends when work is over. I have not been let down from my precollege expectations.

Muadi Mukenge is a freshman at Davidson College in North Carolina.

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