September 14, 2016
(THE PICKET) – Though Shepherd University lags behind other U.S campuses on diversity, black students and faculty say race relations are not a large problem here.
“It can be isolating as a person of color on campus,” said Dr. Thomas Segar, vice president of student affairs. He also does training across the country to increase diversity on college campuses. “I’ve been here since 2002 and have formed relationships beyond race.”
Over the past several months, the deaths of unarmed black men has brought race to the forefront of conversation in America. Across the nation, the Black Lives Matter movement works to bring awareness about police brutality and bring about changes in our justice system and society.
Students from the Black Student Union and members of the Shepherd University faculty hosted a panel Tuesday, Sept. 13, in the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies. They told a large crowd in the auditorium about what their race means to them, their experiences as a person of color at Shepherd University, and what steps the university can take to improve the college experience for people of color.
“I was raised in a diverse community,” said Naim Muhammad, president of the BSU and a Shepherd University basketball player. “I thought everyone came from a diverse background. I became racially conscious in college.”
Being racially conscious means that one is aware of one’s race, and the advantages or disadvantages that come with being aware of that.
When asked if racial factors played a part in his choosing Shepherd, Muhammad say it didn’t and that he was recruited as an athlete.
Da’Shawn Long, treasurer for both the BSU and the Student Government Association, said, “I have always been racially conscious, but it wasn’t a factor in me choosing Shepherd.”
Shepherd University ranks below the national average when it comes to ethnic diversity, according to College Factual. The national average has the percentage of black students on college campuses at 20 percent less than the number of white students, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. At Shepherd, 6.5 percent, or 40 faculty members identify as black or African American, while 8.3 percent or 312 undergraduate students identify as black or African American.
Despite these numbers, the representatives of the BSU expressed their feelings about how Shepherd seems to be improving. “I’ve always felt welcomed at Shepherd,” said Tiana Davis, vice president of the BSU, “even though I’ve sometimes been the only black female in the room.”
“I feel like Shepherd is progressing diversity and inclusion,” Long said.
When asked what else they would want people to know and how the college experience can be improved for people of color at Shepherd, the panelists offered several points.
“Be more pro-active,” said LaShawn Tolson, hall director for Thatcher Hall, “and less re-active.”
All of the panelist agreed that one of the most important needs is education. Muhammad said that educating himself on issues has made him a better person and helped him form better relationships with people, even those he does not agree with on every issue.
“Engage in learning differences,” Dr. Segar said. “We live in a world where differences make the differences.”
Westley Elkins is a staff writer for The Picket. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @WesElkins.