Decline in African-American students challenges SF State diversity

The beginning of each semester brings new students from various backgrounds. SF State students speak a variety of languages and represent all nationalities and races. At first glance, one might even think it represents the state demographics. When looking at the numbers, however, a disheartening trend emerges.

African-American student numbers are decreasing significantly. According to the California State University’s Analytical Statistical Reports website, Fall 2011 shows only 159 African-American first-time freshmen, down from 218 in 2007. Transfer students accounted for another 160 students in 2011, down a tenth of a percentage point from 2007 data.

What are African-American students lacking that disqualifies them for acceptance to SF State? Or perhaps a better question would be, what does the University do to attract African-American students? Does the administration care to attract larger numbers of African-American students?

Part of SF State’s legacy is the 1969 school shutdown by a number of African-American students on campus in solidarity with other underrepresented students and faculty of color. Together, they succeeded in rallying for ethnic studies to be offered and for more students of color to be admitted. That strike demanded an equal opportunity for African-American students to learn their own history.

The years following the protests and school shutdown saw an increase in African-American enrollment. As of late, this number seems to be headed in the opposite direction of what students protested for during the late 1960s. It is with this educational legacy in mind that I wonder why the African-American student population here is rapidly declining, especially during the past six years.

SF State has been deemed one of the most racially diverse campuses in the country by the 2009 “US News & World Report” rankings, but what does that diversity really look like under a microscope?

According to the San Francisco State University 2012 Data Book, which compiles demographics of all kinds for the campus, the number of African-American students has dropped from 1,662 (6.9 percent) in 2007 to 1,408 (5.6 percent) in 2011. That is for all levels. In comparison, Chicano/Mexican-American students have increased from 2,432 (10.1 percent) in 2007 to 3,400 (13.6 percent) in Fall 2011. Similarly, Latino students of other origin have increased from 1,872 (7.8 percent) to 2,339 (9.4 percent) within the same time frame.

What qualifies an institution to label itself diverse? Is it merely having a large number of nonwhite students or does it require a student population that reflects an even distribution of racial backgrounds?

It may seem when you walk around campus that there are more African-American students on campus than the numbers show, but are they counted as African-American and do they consider themselves a part of that group? The numbers for nonresident students admitted and enrolled between 2007 and 2011 are greater than African-American students. In 2011, nonresident and African-American student admissions were nearly the same for first time-freshmen, almost double the amount of nonresident transfers were admitted and triple the amount of graduate nonresidents compared to their African-American counterparts. These numbers don’t even include the Latino, Mexican/Chicano population and Asian students, all of which are enjoying an increase in admissions.

Yes, an increase in students of color from many different backgrounds helps make SF State wonderful! But, at the rate we’re going there won’t be any African-American students, even if they are qualified. The administration should put more effort into distributing admissions across all ethnic backgrounds.

The facts page of the SF State website proudly boasts the University’s record of graduating people of color. I say it is time to return to the roots of what made the University diverse to begin with by increasing African-American student admissions.