LSU mass communication graduate student Dionell McNeal chose to attend LSU because he believes the university, unlike an HBCU, would provide a substantial, well-rounded education and more connections to pursue a career. (Credit: Brianna Paciorka)
LSU mass communication graduate student Dionell McNeal chose to attend LSU because he believes the university, unlike an HBCU, would provide a substantial, well-rounded education and more connections to pursue a career. (Credit: Brianna Paciorka)

By Otisha Paige | LSU Student

Student enrollment for African Americans at LSU this fall totalled 2,835 compared to 21,568 caucasian students. Observing foot traffic in LSU's Quad reinforces the makeup of the student body. The diversity gap is apparent.

Enrollment for other students of color comprises even smaller ratios.

What prompts African Americans choose an institution such as LSU over one that has a higher percentage of minority students?

LSU's Dionell McNeal, an African American student from Alexandria, says he "doesn't trust an HBCU (Historic Black College or University) with my education. A degree from LSU provides connections and opportunities lacking at an HBCU." Other African American interviewees shared similar views.

Geia Carter of New Orleans says "a PWI (predominately white institution) represents the real world." McNeal and Carter also raised concern over lack of funding for specific programs at an HBCU as well as a diverse atmosphere.

Students of color at Southern provided a different perspective on their educational choice. Monroe Murphy Ш of Flint, Mich., said he was motivated to attend Southern because he liked being around members of his own race, that it made him feel more comfortable.

Others addressed the affordability and financial aid as major factors in their decision making. David Saterfield of Camden, Ark., and Chad Mitchell, who is from Philadelphia, attended a PWI for undergraduate studies, but Southern's affordability became the deal clincher in furthering their education.

Michelle Hill, director of Recruitment and Freshmen Admissions at Southern, says that less than 1 percent of students on that campus are white. She attributes this to the availability of scholarships and programs since HBCUs traditionally aren't their first choice. The fact that most caucasian students at Southern are athletes reinforces her thesis.

Regarding African Americans attending an HBCU, Hill says that "family factors into the decision making because some members previously attended an HBCU. Also, students that attended a predominantly black high school tend to want to stay in a similar environment because they feel better served around people resembling them."

The size of the campus proved also to be a factor. Hill notes that HBCUs are generally smaller than PWIs and this makes it easier for professors to interact and establish personal relationships with students. She describes Southern as a school with a nurturing, welcoming environment.

No African Americans acknowledged this level of comfort at LSU with their minority status. LSU's Office of Recruitment created an extra day during orientation to better serve students of color and to make their transition to LSU smoother. However, when interviewing students at LSU, this extra day failed to suffice in making African Americans feel welcome, according to a number of black students interviewed.

There is no Office of Multicultural Affairs at Southern University, perhaps because the majority of the population is African American. There is an Office of International Affairs, but this program solely pertains to international students. The question emerges, however, as to how the white population at Southern is coping.

Southern's students emphasized the value of being among peers who share similar ethnic backgrounds because it provided a "welcoming" atmosphere. Hill noted that students tend to excell in an environment where they are comfortable and feel welcome.

Athletic programs attracts blacks to PWIs as well whites to HBCUs. Hill says most of the caucasian students at Southern are involved in some sports-related activities, usually under a scholarship.

Edwin Johnson, a senior on the LSU football team, attended an HBCU before transferring to LSU to accept a football scholarship. He reiterated some of the positives of HBCU affordability and welcoming atmosphere.

However, Johnson acknowledges he has experienced no racism or ill treatment at LSU. He says "everyone is pretty cool" in reference to his teammates and fellow students. It may be that he is given deferential treatment because of his athletic status, but LSU's diversity office reports no incidents of bigotry or racism on campus.

Brian Harris of Hammond, a white law student at Southern, echoed similar sentiments. He chose Southern because of its affordability and acknowledged that he "felt visible because of his color, but that doesn't matter."

He also mentioned overhearing black students speak negatively a bout whites, but has never personally been a victim of racism. Overall, he reported a favorable experience at Southern.

Brooke Burnham, a caucasian female law student at Southern from Ville Platte, La, says she chose Southern because it was a "good education for a low price." She said her experience at an HBCU makes her feel accepted and students don't focus on race.

Although each group seeks the same academic goal, students of color at LSU seem more focused on the quality of education and plethora of networking opportunities. As Geia Carter notes, African American student realize that they are also the minority in the nation as a whole. Therefore, LSU represents the real world.