EDITORIAL: University has responsibility to improve residence hall, CAP diversity

The Journal Editorial Board

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Throughout the previous years, UIS has made great strides in improving diversity on campus by increasing the number of minority students enrolled at the university.

However, now is the time to focus on promoting diversity within Lincoln Residence Hall (LRH), Founder’s Residence Hall (FRH), and within the Capital Scholars Honors Program (CAP).

As detailed in an article in the April 13 edition of The Journal, LRH is comprised of 175 students, of whom 68.6 percent are Caucasian, 16 percent are African American, and 10.8 percent are Hispanic.

Meanwhile, FRH houses 198 students, of whom 50 percent are African American, 29.8 percent are Caucasian, and 12.6 percent are Hispanic.

In response to the demographics, a working committee, composed of Director of Residence Life John Ringle, CAP Director Marc Klingshirn, Mark Dochterman with Leadership for Life, Justin Rose with Necessary Steps, and Tara-Sweeting Trotter with the STARS program, has been established to address the situation.

However, despite the statistics, Chancellor Susan Koch expressed a lack of concern over the topic in a March 10 interview.

“I’m not as concerned about those numbers as I am the larger issue of diversity and race relations on this campus,” Koch said.

However, the 400 students living in the two residence halls make up a significant part of the university, which has approximately 1,100 on-campus residents.

Koch further described the possible barrier the unbalanced demographics causes among students as being perceived.

“If students think that creates a barrier then that’s a perceived barrier,” Koch said.

However, such a divide between residence halls is observable and creates a problematic situation at UIS, as it damages the sense of community and even imposes racial barriers.

While it is highly unlikely that such disproportions are intentional, it does not mean the situation should be simply ignored.

In fact, the racial divide between dormitories should be addressed and acted upon immediately.

A short-term plan should include switching the LRH Leadership for Life living-learning community with an FRH living-learning community such as Necessary Steps or the STARS program. Such a switch could enhance the number of individuals with diverse backgrounds in LRH and FRH as soon as the next school year.

In as few as two school years, CAP should commit to moving half of its students to FRH while keeping half of the program in LRH.

The CAP program could institute CAP-only wings or more beneficially allow fellow CAP students to share dorm rooms, while sharing a bathroom with traditional students.

Such a wholesale change would eliminate racial disparities between residence halls while allowing for a better sense of community at UIS.

However, a possibly more important problem should be addressed. Why are there so few minority students in the CAP program?

In order to counter the disparaging numbers, minority students should be specifically sought out and recruited to the CAP program.

As suggested by Klingshirn in a March 9 interview, such recruitment could occur by utilizing current CAP minority students in college preview days at high schools and preview days held at UIS.

Although students cannot apply for the CAP program until they have been accepted at the university, that does not mean the CAP program can’t be utilized to bring students onto our campus.

Additionally, it would be highly beneficial to publicize specifics of the CAP curriculum to all incoming students so that misconceptions about the difficulty of the program are not formed.

Furthermore, significant resources should be allocated to scholarships for high-achieving minority students so that such students are given an incentive to enroll in the UIS CAP program.

Lastly, such changes should be accompanied by a clear partnership between the CAP program and cultural organizations such as the Diversity Center and the Black Student Union to further advance diversifying efforts.

If university officials wish to enhance the student experience at the university, then the racial diversity divide between FRH and LRH and the lack of diversity in the CAP program should be made a top priority.

If the university does not show concern over the issue, it will ultimately damage how students, those in the Springfield community, and potential students perceive UIS.

After all, perception is reality.