Staff Editorial

University fails to create a diverse community

Loyola's 2014 family weekendflickr//Loyola University Chicago

When it comes to racial diversity on campus in Chicago, Loyola lags behind DePaul University, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), according to a Sept. 2014 study by U.S. News and World Report.

Taking a quick look around campus, Loyola students usually see the same thing: a lot of white, suburban women.

That assumption isn’t too far off. Loyola’s common data set for 2013 to 2014 shows that women make up 65 percent of the undergraduate population, and 61 percent of the students are white. More than two-thirds of Loyola students are from Illinois.

In many ways, Loyola reflects national trends in higher education. According to the most recent census data, more women are now attending college than men. Likewise, white students account for more than 70 percent of college graduates.

Yet, the university beats the national average for ethnic diversity. Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiian Islanders, or “people of color,” represent 39 percent of Loyola’s undergraduate population. Nationally, these students account for only 29 percent of college graduates. The university’s common data set does not report on students’ economic profiles or their religious and sexual identities.

proportion of Loyola undergraduate students by race
proportion of Loyola undergraduate students by race

Loyola’s director of undergraduate admission Lori Greene said that more than 30 percent of the university’s students are the first in their families to attend college. Between Jesuit universities in the U.S., Loyola also has one of the highest numbers of federal Pell grant recipients, with 31 percent of students receiving the aid award.

As the number of students at Loyola has grown over the last 10 years, the percent of white students has increased too. At the same time, the percentage of black students at the university has dropped below that of other major Chicago universities. Fifteen years ago, black students at Loyola matched the current national average of 8 to 9 percent of the student body. Now, only 3 percent of students at Loyola are African American.

It’s difficult to pin down the reason for this change. Tuition at Loyola has steadily increased, which makes it more difficult for students from less affluent backgrounds to pay for school. DePaul students receive more  federal and state financial aid than Loyola students. Loyola, however, gives students more of its own scholarships and grants than DePaul and UIC.

Several departments at the university work together to increase diversity. Loyola’s University Marketing and Communications (UMC) and Enrollment Management advertise to Spanish-, Polish- and Mandarin-speaking students online and in local Spanish and Polish newspapers. According to UMC’s vice president Katie Hession, ads are placed all over Chicago, including on the city’s South and West Sides. The university also sends recruiters to other parts of the country, especially in the Midwest.

Creating a more accepting environment for Loyola students with different racial, economic, religious and sexual identities is up to the Department of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA). The department offers counselling services, support groups, events to celebrate diversity and classes on financial literacy.

They also have training programs where faculty, staff and students learn how to work with people who come from different backgrounds. Programs such as Safe Space teach the Loyola community how to support its students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or intersex.

To address the dwindling number of men of color on campus, SDMA created the Brothers for Excellence program. This mentorship program tries to help these men build a foundation on Loyola’s campus.

Last June, Loyola’s board of trustees also approved a plan to build the Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago. There is little information available about this college, but the school will help students who aren’t able to afford the time or cost of a four-year university get an Associate’s degree.

Is all of this enough, though?

The bottom line is that as one of the top universities in Chicago, Loyola needs to be more diverse and more inclusive. The university will never be a competitive, national institution if it doesn’t recruit and keep students from all kinds of backgrounds.

To start, Loyola’s advertising has to look beyond the Chicagoland area, which, while diverse, doesn’t offer the same richness of experience that a national university should.

More avenues are also needed for students who don’t know how to navigate the cultural and financial worlds of academia. While the university does help students through their transition to college, encouraging the discussion of students’ life experiences during classes could create a more open and welcoming environment.

By being around peers from different backgrounds, students are exposed to new perspectives, beliefs, customs and experiences. A diverse campus fosters empathy and compassion through understanding.

This university has an obligation to keep its doors open to students from all walks of life. It’s only by pushing faculty, staff and students out of their cultural comfort zones that they grow.

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