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As OU gains numbers with black students; black faculty members are going down

As Ohio University increases its efforts in gaining a more diverse student body, the retention and recruitment of African-American faculty lacks the same attention.

Only 3.7 percent of OU faculty is African-American — a half percent decrease from 2010 to 2014, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

This data does not include the resignation of Cecil Walters and elimination of Linda Daniels’ position. Now, a third African-American faculty member will be leaving the university at the end of the school year.

Debra Thompson, an assistant professor of political science and a woman of color, will be leaving OU based on her new position at Northwestern University.

“Faculty of color generally face pretty obvious institutional discrimination — good old-fashioned racism,” Thompson said. “This is my fourth year, and this is the most racist place I’ve ever lived in my life.”

Thompson said the university puts on a good face for the public, like many institutions.

 “Yeah, we have a black president, but no black faculty, and the numbers are diminishing,” Thompson said. “We have no efforts to recruit faculty of color. We have no efforts to retain faculty of color. We have no diversity plan.”

Thompson said this lack of effort to recruit faculty of color is becoming a problem because OU is increasing its diverse student body.

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The black student population is now at 5 percent, a half percent increase from 2010 to 2014, which is the exact opposite of black faculty, according to the Office of Institutional Research.

“We’re very proud of (our increased student diversity), but we need faculty and administrators,” said Shari Clarke, vice provost of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion. “We have got to recruit and retain faculty and administrators. It’s equally as important.”

Clarke said her main goal in her position is solving the “issues of climate” and how OU can be a welcoming environment for everyone.

 “We need to ask ourselves if we’re valuing the diversity that’s there,” Clarke said. “Are we helping people make it to tenure? Are we creating a place that respects differences?”

Lauren Perovsek, a freshman studying biology, said she thinks Ohio’s student body is more diverse than its teachers, even though her major contains a majority of foreign professors.

“I think OU, as a campus, is diverse because of the amount of international students we have,” she said. “But, as far as universities go, I think urban schools like Cleveland State are a lot more diverse.”

The number of white faculty members increased by 0.1 percent between 2011 and 2014. This consists of a gain in 107 white faculty members, compared to only two black faculty members.

Clarke said because of the low amount of black faculty, it can be difficult to work in an environment where “people don’t have an understanding or appreciation of difference.”

“Everyone navigates the world differently, but sometimes when you’re in a small town, everyone seems to think we all navigate the world in the same way,” said Cecil Walters, former director of the Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention. “That’s not the case.”

Walters said when he moved to Athens from New York, there were some differences that his family experienced, like his daughter being one of three black girls in her high school class.

“She didn’t have a prom date,” Walters said. “That was kind of sad for me to see. She explained it to me back then and most of the guys at the school weren’t interested in black girls.

Walters is no stranger to negative experiences of his own as a result of living in a small town as a black man.

“I get stopped by police, often,” he said, adding he was once stopped twice in a week. “Those are common things that happen anywhere.”

Thompson said although President Roderick McDavis has done a good job in bringing the attention to diversifying the student body, the multicultural faculty has a difficulty potentially living in Athens for more than four years, and all-year around, unlike undergraduates.

“I feel like there’s a lot of parallels between America’s belief in post-racism and OU’s belief that it’s a progressive university,” Thompson said. “We have two black presidents, and apparently the existence of these two black presidents means that racism doesn’t exist.”

The racism is apparent, Thompson said, and that has a lot to do with being a black woman in a predominantly small, white town.


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