November 19, 2002

Minority Students Describe Services

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For the third year in a row, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education ranked Cornell last in the Ivy League in enrollment of African-American students. The report brings to light the debate over the University’s ongoing efforts to recruit and retain students from underrepresented minority groups. While the debate continues over whether those efforts are sufficient, the effects are felt in the current student body and the composition of each department.


Earlier this month, The Sun investigated issues surrounding faculty retention in departments with traditionally few women or minority professors. The University does not release statistics by department on the number of minority students in each major, but departments with few minority or women professors often have few students from underrepresented groups who declare those majors as well. Though it has not been proven, there seems to be a relationship between minority faculty in departments at the University and minority students who join those departments as majors.

Student organizations have formed in various colleges to provide support networks for students of color. They include the Minority Business Students Association, Minority Industrial and Labor Relations Student Organization (MILRSO), Minority Organization of Architects, Artists and Planners (MOAAP), Minority Undergraduate Law Society and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS).

Jamal Henderson ’03, president of MILRSO, estimates that there are approximately 30 to 35 minorities in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations out of around 700 total.

“There definitely need to be more,” Henderson said. He added, however, “In ILR I know that there’s a concentrated effort now. … [This year] the numbers were the highest they’ve been.”

Henderson explained the need for a visible minority presence within colleges and departments.

“Students might not feel comfortable if they never see someone who looks like them,” he said.

The problem, he said, extends to graduate students. He observed a connection between faculty diversity and that of the graduate student body, noting that there is one minority professor in ILR and two African-American graduate students.

The connection between minority graduate students and professors involves research opportunities and student-faculty relationships, Henderson added.

Prof. Biodun Jeyifo, English, also believes that graduate student retention is related to the number of minority faculty members within departments.

“There are general problems with attrition and retention of graduate students [of color],” he said.

Tiffany Mayhew ’06, co-chair of MOAAP, sees similar issues within the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

“It’s already a small college,” she said, adding that out of approximately 65 students admitted each year to the college, two to seven are underrepresented minorities.

“That’s a pretty small number to me,” Mayhew said.

To support such students, MOAAP has “tried to instill … mentorship programs,” she said.

In the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, minorities have to contend with an issue of image. Shayla Hudson ’03, president of MANRRS, noted problems with the associations some people make with students in the college.

“A lot of people, when they think of [the college], they think of farming,” Hudson said. However, she said, many minority students in the college pursue biology or other majors removed from the common perception of the college.

In general, she added, the college contains fields that have historically been uncommon for minorities.

“Even though it’s not a common field to go into [for minorities], there are still research opportunities and jobs.”

Very few minorities go into veterinary medicine, she added.

Archived article by Andy Guess