Student groups at Fresno State are demanding administrators do more to attract and retain African Americans, pointing out that only 3 percent of the student body is black.
Students protested during California State University Chancellor Timothy White’s public forum on the Fresno campus Wednesday, chanting “Education, not incarceration” and holding signs that said “Black students matter.”
Outside of the North Gym, 68 red T-shirts lay on the pavement – representing the number of black students Fresno State has lost since classes began in August. In 2015, 785 black students were enrolled at the university – down from more than 1,000 in 2011.
Ciara Armstead, who represents Fresno State’s Afrikan Black Coalition, said that while the university boasts about its diversity – more than 45 percent of students are Hispanic – black student needs are being neglected. Another sign protesters held: “Diversity does not equal equality.”
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“There are not enough programs centered on African American students to guarantee their success, but there are other programs for other minorities. There are specific programs that help them graduate, and the numbers prove it,” Armstead said. “They’re saying that they’re currently working on different tactics to increase African American enrollment, along with retention, but it obviously has failed. It’s a dire concern.”
This is still happening, and it’s sad.
Fresno State professor Hasan Johnson
The 68 students statistic does not take into account those who may have graduated in December, and administrators are still analyzing those numbers.
Protesters confronted White about the issue, calling for better recruitment practices and more services on campus to help black students succeed.
White pointed out that when he was head of the University of California, Riverside, in 2010, black male students graduated at higher rates than any other ethnic group on campus, calling it one of his proudest moments.
“Our goal is to get rid of the achievement gap between students. I know it can be done,” White said Wednesday. “When we challenge students, and never coddle them or lower expectations, they can succeed. They have the intellect to succeed – they just haven’t had the opportunities to develop.”
Nationally, the numbers are also low: While more black students are enrolling in college, they only accounted for about 9 percent of young adults with bachelor’s degrees in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
“We share their concerns about the decrease in the number of African American students at Fresno State, and actually, in higher education across the country,” Fresno State President Joseph Castro said. “I believe it’s going to take time, but I’m confident that with the right strategies, our enrollment will grow.”
Castro said part of his plan is to do more recruitment in predominantly black neighborhoods and high schools.
Professor Hasan Johnson, who attended Wednesday’s rally to support students, said Fresno State in the past has avoided those areas for recruitment, to the detriment of university enrollments.
“Most of the students’ demand list looks like it could’ve been filed in 1968, and yet we still have the same problems in 2016. This is still happening, and it’s sad,” Johnson said. “It’s ironic because we’ve had record enrollment – a record year for bringing in students. But not black students.”