When the professor calls roll for the first time each semester, senior apparel merchandising and production major Pimtheera Rojanavongse knows what to expect.
“When I’m in a small class I know they will have that look when they get to my name,” Rojanavongse said. “I just interrupt them and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.’ Then everyone in the class turns to look at me. It’s embarrassing.”
If all goes as planned, moments like these may be less frequent for ethnically diverse students like Rojanavongse.
CSU President Larry Penley introduced what he called the five-year “stretch” plan last week in a presentation at the CSU Board of Governor’s meeting.
The plan has the ambitious goal of adding 450 faculty members, increasing student enrollment by 20 percent and creating a student body that represents the changing demographics in Colorado.
“It’s something we’ve got to do to be responsible to Colorado,” said Bonifacio Cosyleon, a board member. “Pueblo CSU has a 46 percent Hispanic enrollment, but if you look in the grades K-12, it’s 62 percent. Our universities have to be more reflective of Colorado’s population.”
How they hope to accomplish these tasks remains somewhat unclear as last week’s presentation was more about presenting the goals than talking about the resources and strategies required to reaching them.
One positive for culturally diverse students on campus has been the advocacy offices that offer services and support to all students.
Teresa Roybal, an administrative assistant for Native American Student Services, has been working on campus for 20 years and said educating more people about cultural differences would make the campus more attractive to minority students.
“Sometimes if (students) are not aware of what CSU has to offer they can be intimidated by a classroom full of white students,” Roybal said. “I know CSU is trying really hard to promote diversity. One of the problems is some people just don’t understand why they need diversity training. Those are usually the people who need it the most.”
In addition to diversity training, the university could use the proposed $100 million increase in the current $800 million budget toward minority scholarships and recruitment efforts.
“We’re asking the department heads to be a part of the solution; they’re lofty goals,” Cosyleon said. “It’s going to take a lot of work, much of which is governed by the dollar sign. It’s a challenge we’ve decided to take on though.”
More than anything it seems, currently enrolled minority students’ greatest hope is that the university, and Fort Collins, would become more culturally educated – and perhaps sensitive.
“Fort Collins is so white they’re not culturally aware of a lot of things,” said junior social work and ethnic studies major Chinazo Ihekweazu, who is of Nigerian descent. “In class if we’re talking about a culture of yours, they ask you what you think. I don’t represent a whole race.
“I’m my own person.”
Some minority students realize, however, that it’s difficult to expect much more from a university that has never experienced less than an 87.8 percent white enrollment, the current number for this fall semester. Since a decade ago, that number has only fallen 1.8 percent.
“The college should promote diversity better,” Rojanavongse said. “When people don’t know, they can act stupid, and that wasn’t really their intention. They just need to be educated.”
Good intentions won’t go as far as good funding, the main question mark in CSU’s five-year plan. Referendum C, a measure passed by Colorado voters saving the state’s universities from massive budget cuts, won’t guarantee the budget increase the board is hoping to have in place for the ambitious plan.
But whether the initial goals are met or not, Cosyleon said, the university will benefit through this process.
“Our philosophy was to shoot high,” Cosyleon said. “Maybe we won’t hit what we’re going for but we’ll be coming closer to realizing that demographic where it needs to be.”
Staff writer Brett Okamoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.