The number of incoming black students coming to Purdue has declined in recent years. Some black students at Purdue believe it is because, as a group, they feel a lack of inclusion into the community.
Students attend Purdue due to the academic programs offered, financial assistance, preferable location or family traditions. However, several black students feel they have had to forget the culture they are familiar with.
Jasmine Morris, a senior in the College of Engineering and student coordinator at the Black Cultural Center (BCC), said Purdue, though it encourages black student enrollment, seldom does more past the students’ first day.
“It is really a love/hate relationship with Purdue,” Morris said.
Morris, like others, have had to rely on specified programs geared primarily for minority students. The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Minority Technology Association (MTA), National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and Society of Minority Managers (SMM) are to name a few. These organizations create a network for minority students, whether it is amongst each other or with Purdue alumni. They allow students to build a bond as well create a comfortable culture.
“To me (all of these other programs) state that Purdue alone does not provide the environment or support that black students may need,” said Morris.
Morris will be the only black female graduating this May in chemical engineering. Though the classroom has challenged her to grow academically, she has chosen to dedicate many hours to the BCC because it provides an environment that has “served as a home away from home” and given her “support and encouragement” during her schooling at Purdue.
The University’s undergraduate admissions numbers state 1454 black students applied to Purdue and of those only 536 were admitted, roughly 37 percent. Out of 536, only 162 students accepted and attended Purdue for the 2013-2014 school year.
President Mitch Daniels was disappointed in the lack of growth with black students. He said in a previous interview with The Exponent, the overall pool from which to recruit black students is small and therefore the number that attend Purdue is also small.
“We just have to keep working harder,” Daniels said. “You may remember I sat at Westwood night after night. I called the African American URM students we admitted, (and) tried to tell them we love them and talk them into coming here. Some did.”
Though there are conscious efforts from administration to improve these numbers, black students want to know why so many aren’t committing to the University.
“I have been told the reasons for this are that ‘there are not enough qualified students applying to Purdue’ or that ‘this population represents the state.’ To me, that is like being told, ‘You are a minority, so deal with it,’” Morris said. “(Black students) recognize that the non-academic environment at Purdue makes a large difference. (The potential students) may hear that (Purdue) is a great school academically, but maybe not so great in other areas.”
The only black student in the aeronautical engineering class of 2014, Dave Rankine, admits to being a “little fish in a big pond.”
He says the National Society of Black Engineers has been one of the most impacting experiences during his time at Purdue. He met people whom he looks up to as he progressed through college and could get advice from.
Rankine wants to inspire other students and assist them in a way he wasn’t. Solving problems and succeeding academically was challenging, and mentorship is something he wishes could have been stronger. He has made an effort to create a binder for an organization that has assisted him, Minority Engineering Program. It outlines his steps throughout college and includes information that could steer some other students in the right direction.
“I walked in their shoes and sat in the same seats with possibly the same hopes and desires of life after college,” Rankine said. “Hopefully in that small way it helps some other kid reach his goals with just a little less headache.”
For this reason, he offers a suggestion for the University. Purdue could model Ohio State University’s STEM program and pair incoming students with other students and faculty for their years at school to aid as a mentor. It “should be a staple (at Purdue).”
“I wish there was more synthesis. Purdue is really good at separating (people out in race classifications) rather than making everyone feel included together,” he said. “The more you learn about someone that is different than you, the more you learn what you have in common. (Communicating with different people) can bridge that gap.”