By Collin Cunningham
Recently, the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center gave Kent State low scores on a comprehensive report card called “Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities: A 50-State Report.”
The study looked at public learning institutions from each state and compared four factors factors: equity in terms of gender, graduation rates of black students representation equity and black student-to-black faculty ratio.
The only criteria for which Kent received a grade higher than D was the student to faculty ratio, and there they got a C.
“I think faculty recruitment, student body, in terms of helping students feel at home, that’s the most important thing,” said Babacar M’Baye, a professor in Kent’s Department of English. “Helping students feel at home, feel good where they are, those things.”
The study found a ratio of 36 black students to each black faculty member.
According to Kent State’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s web page on Recruitment and Retention, DEI is developing practices to assist in increasing the rate of recruitment and retention of marginalized faculty and staff at the University.
These programs include the New Diverse Hire Networking Lunch, which brings recent diverse hires, their supervisors and invited guests from the university community together to get to know each other better.
“We’re working with Academic Affairs and University College and Student Affairs,” said Alfreda Brown, Vice President of the DEI. “I know that more and more people are getting used to how diversity fits into their academic plans and how we’re changing the university.”
M’Baye, who has authored African history books such as Black Cosmopolitanism and Anticolonialism: Pivotal Moments, said that a greater amount of diversity on campus and more well-known black professors would help encourage other students to come to Kent.
“I believe in the importance of the black public intellectual,” M’Baye said, citing schools like NYU, Harvard and Princeton for faculty like Emmanuel Akyeampong, a professor of history and African American Studies at Harvard. Akyeampong has helped Harvard’s African Studies department grow with knowledge gained from studying African and European history.
One of the biggest disparities on the report card comes in the form of completion equity. Black students have a 39.5% graduation rate at Kent State, which is 14.9% lower than the school’s overall graduation statistics.
“Our graduation rates, I agree they’re low,” Brown said. “But even that is an upward trajectory. Especially over the last couple years, our graduation rate actually went up so I know that there is a lot of hope for what we do here.”
Whether or not the DEI’s diverse hiring programs will prove effective is yet to be seen.
“When you give black students more voice, more reputation, more place in public universities you create a field of greater satisfaction at all levels,” M’Baye said.
“And reputation just spreads out. Those students would graduate, they would go into their professions and they would become happy, satisfied alumni and they will talk about Kent State’s achievements.”
The institution with the highest equity index score, which works as a GPA comparing the grades of the four studied criteria, is the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, which received a 3.50. The lowest is Florida Polytechnic University’s score of 0.33. Kent falls about halfway in the middle, earning a 1.25.
The Kent Campus Climate Research Study from 2016 found that 68% of black respondents were significantly less likely to be “very comfortable” or “comfortable” with Kent State’s overall climate than white students.
For now, the University intends to forge ahead in their efforts to diversify the student population.
“It’s gonna take time, but we’re not there. That’s what the report tells me,” Brown said.