Freshman and transfer students of color made Western history this fall, enrolling at a record number of 25.4 percent. Out of 2,795 freshmen, 711 are students of color, which amounts to 25.4 percent, a 2 percent increase from fall 2012. Transfer students follow suit, with 231 students of color out of 1,045, totaling 22 percent students of color, which is eight more individual students than fall 2012 transfers. Dean of Students Ted Pratt said the increasing numbers are better reflecting the state’s population. With a lack of multicultural students, Pratt said white students are at a disadvantage.
“We’re under-preparing our white students, to have them think that they’re going out into a world that looks like [Western],” Pratt said.
Washington’s population is about 84 percent white, according to the 2010 census. Students who arrive at Western may be surprised if coming from more mixed cities such as Seattle, Tacoma or others, Pratt said. In the big picture, Washington is not so multicultural.
“You’ll look at a campus and say, ‘there aren’t that many people of color,’” Pratt said. “But if you look at the state of Washington, there aren’t that many people of color.”
Associate Director of Admissions Jeanne Gaffney said there has been an increase in the number of students of color applying to Western. A third of the fall freshman applicants were students of color, a slight rise from the 32.5 percent fall of 2012.
“The larger freshman class is not related to any specific targets related to diversity,” Gaffney said in an email. “Enrollment planning takes into consideration a variety of factors including the balance of Western’s students to a class standing (balancing freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors).”
Pratt said he would rather have a campus which better reflects the global community. The average European speaks three languages. The average African speaks three to five languages. The average white American is monolingual and mono-cultured, said Pratt.
“When they have a 99 percent white elementary [school], 99 percent white middle school, 99 percent white high school and maybe a 12 percent white world, then we fail them if they think that they can go out [into the world] and operate the same way that they’ve always operated,” Pratt said.
Junior Teena Thach, public relations coordinator for the Ethnic Students Center, said she has noticed a definite difference in the amount of students of color on campus since her freshman year. Since she began her work in the ESC, more young faces have been visiting.
“Ever since the ESC Conference a lot of students have been able to feel comfortable enough coming to the Ethnic Students Center,” Thach said. “And because they’re freshmen, they bring their friends.”
Thach emphasized that the ESC is for every student on campus. No ethnic background or club affiliation is needed. Anyone can eat, sleep, watch the big screen or study in the ESC. Twenty-six years ago, Pratt was hired to boost the number of ethnic minorities at Western. Now that he has opened the pipeline, Pratt said he works to retain the population of students of color on campus.
Western enjoys a higher retention rate than most universities. Western’s retention rate is about 82 percent, while the rate for students of color is in the 70s. All students transfer for different reasons, said Pratt.
With the rising enrollment rate, Thach said the ESC needs to grow with it. The maximum capacity of the room is not listed in the facility, but Thach and ESC Program Coordinator Danielle Smith agrees that the room can’t hold more than 200 people.
“I feel like we have gone over the capacity so many times,” Thach said. “We can’t help which students come down here and we’re not going to kick them out.”
Pratt said with the numbers growing, a larger Ethnic Student Center may be expected in the next two to five years. An adequate space is needed to show the commitment of support, Pratt said.