As with any major decision regarding one’s future, choosing a college is a weighted and significant action. For me personally, that decision and process were determined by multiple factors: financial aid, location, academic program availability and variety, and campus community diversity. The latter has recently become imperative to me, even as I stand firm in my final choice and current university–Butler University. An impressive and reputable institution could have many positive attributes, but if the environment and administrators are not actively welcoming to Black campus community members, it’s not right for me. This kind of priority at predominately white institutions can be executed on multiple levels: administrative, locally, and outreach based. Each of these levels is relevant to each university in different ways, some of which I’ve begun to observe at my own university.
As for the first, efforts and funding directed towards supporting students of color must be enforced by someone. Whether this is a diversity director or dean, having faculty and administrators who will advocate for these students (whether informed by their own lived experience or not) is a great first step. My own school has endured recent changes in leadership from women of color in diversity based administrative positions, a pattern that is telling in and of itself. Employee turnover or verbal support of the administration they work for both help students of color discern where they can best find the support they need on campus: in higher ranks, or with each other.
Local campus organizations and clubs play a large role in an environment of inclusivity. I am a part of the executive board of the Black Student Union on campus, and already feel encouraged by the initiative and opportunities to shape the campus culture we have. By introducing educational events and speakers to our community, we can actively improve it. This work when paired with the fantastic effort of diversity boards and committees gives student leaders the platform and time to share their culture with others and raise relevant concerns they process individually. Another benefit of these campus efforts is mentor programs, between marginalized students and other peers and faculty who can help guide them through their experience on campus.
The final area of evidence of support for the Black community from a PWI is how they treat and view the community outside of campus. Support for underserved Black communities in the area and charities or businesses that help Black leaders are both positive signs and green flags to me. Universities are not a bubble or insulated community, and their influence on their cities and world does not go unnoticed. It is this sort of external approach that I consider to be the mark of a great institution, particularly one that cares about Black people today and in the future.
By Leah Ollie, Freshman, Butler University