The University of Nebraska-Lincoln argues this year’s freshman class is the most diverse in the university’s history, and that diversity in the predominately-white Midwest is a key issue on campus.
After enduring criticism for their handling of some racial tensions on campus — and in a political climate that has issues of race and immigration at the center of conflict — how is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln handling diversity issues today?
That depends on how you look at it. And to do that, we look to the numbers, but also the students in the crucible: non-white, immigrant and international students.
The most recent data from UNL shows that the percentage of students who identify as an ethnic minority is steadily rising, but the percentage of non-resident alien students — international students — had been going up until 2016, when the trend became mixed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state of Nebraska is about 75 percent white. A majority of UNL students are from Nebraska. Therefore, it makes sense that about 73 percent of students in the Spring of 2019 were white.
But how does UNL compare to other Big 10 Schools in the Midwest?
In the Spring of 2019, 14.6 percent of UNL students identified as an ethnic minority (non-white students who hold citizenship in the U.S.). This falls behind some other Midwestern Big 10 schools. Wisconsin came in at 16.6 percent, Iowa at 17.7 percent, Michigan State University at 20.7 percent, University of Minnesota Twin Cities at 21.7 percent, Ohio State at 22.4 percent, and Indiana University at 26.7 percent.
What is UNL doing to promote a culture of more inclusiveness? A major part of the strategy was the hiring a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion. Marco Barker stepped into the position back in April.
When asked about Nebraska’s lack of diversity compared to other schools in the Big 10, Barker attributed the cause to the lack of resources and competition in the Midwest.
“Some of it too becomes proximity,” Barker said.
Barker explained that Nebraska is competing with much more populated schools like Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin to pull out-of-state and diverse students. These schools are also located closer to diversely populated areas than Nebraska is.
“I think also resources and funding are another piece of that,” Barker said.
Barker said some of these universities have better resources to attract these kinds of students and handle diversity on campus. Nebraska is also one of the newest institutions in the Big 10, so it is trying to create a reputation amongst widely-known schools.
Barker says the university is taking strides within its administration to better handle diversity issues, but another important opinion lies within the UNL students themselves. The stories of five Huskers who come from international backgrounds show that UNL has some work to do.
Those stories are:
- Diego Trejo, a student born in Mexico but raised in Omaha, on a life caught between two worlds.
- Richard Maina, a Kenyan student and leader of diversity at UNL, on the progress he’s witnessed on campus inclusion.
- Navya Singh, an Indian international student, on the benefits that international student organizations have.
- Asael Arévalo González, a Colombian student raised in Kearney, on the prejudices some immigrant students face in a predominately-white state.
- An Dang, a Vietnamese immigrant and active student, on the representation international and immigrant students need in campus associations.
Overall, Nebraska has some catching-up to do on increasing diversity on campus and supporting it when it’s here. Barker said the university is working to better handle incidents of conflict on campus and promote an inclusive campus.
“We know that prospective students are watching and making decisions,” Barker said.