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Friday, April 12, 2024

UF Black student enrollment remains stagnant despite increase in applicants

Campus community shares thoughts on the university’s diversity efforts and admissions process

Devanie Adams, a 22-year-old UF public health senior, is a firsthand witness to the consequences of limited Black student admissions at UF.

When she first began taking classes on campus her sophomore year following the COVID-19 pandemic, she quickly realized she was the only Black student in most of her classrooms.

“I did kind of feel like, ‘Wow, where are my people?' I just kind of felt like an outcast,” Adams said. 

Only 5.5% of students enrolled at UF in Fall 2022 identified their ethnicity as Black. While UF undergraduate Black student applications reached a record high during the Fall 2022 admissions cycle, admission and enrollment rates for Black students have remained the same over the last 10 years. 

The number of Black undergraduate applicants increased by 83% between the Fall 2012 and Fall 2022 admissions cycles. However, Black undergraduate enrollment has remained around 500 to 600 students each cycle during the 10-year period, a trend similar to that of other minority groups. 

UF did not respond to questions about why Black student admissions remain stagnant or the recruitment process for prospective Black students.

UF saw a roughly 21% increase in applications between Fall 2021 and Fall 2022. Similarly, Black undergraduate applications increased by 21.5% from, but only 9.5% of the applicants enrolled. 

White students have continued to make up half of the estimated offers made by UF admissions between the Fall 2012 and Fall 2022 admissions cycles. 

Despite the university’s low Black student enrollment rates, UF faculty says it prioritizes diversity within the admissions and recruitment process. 

“We are committed to making sure that students understand that we’re an institution that stands for opportunity and we value the many forms of diversity,” Mary Parker, UF’s Division of Enrollment Management vice president and chief enrollment strategist, said.

UF has not considered the race of students since 1999. Instead, the university uses a holistic review process that considers all aspects of a student's application, background and qualifications when making admissions decisions, Parker said.

The division offers virtual university tours, sends monthly newsletters to high school guidance counselors and plans to improve financial aid packages to make the recruitment process more accessible, Parker said.

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Although Adams is grateful for the academic opportunities provided to her at UF, she said she doesn't believe the university puts enough effort toward protecting and empowering its Black student population.

UF's National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden, a tribute to the legacy of Black Greek-letter organizations at the university, was vandalized for the third time last year since opening three years ago. In November 2022, vandals removed letters from four of nine monuments honoring Black fraternities and sororities.

“I think our school puts very little effort into protecting Black spaces,” Adams said. 

Stephanie Birch was a UF inaugural African American Studies librarian from August 2016 until January 2022 before taking a similar position last year at the University of Connecticut library. Birch said she left UF due to ongoing concerns about the state legislature’s impact on her work and the safety of her Black teenager, who identifies as gender-nonconforming.

“There is less overt political hostility in terms of legislative action and interference with university business [at Connecticut],” Birch said.

Birch's departure aligns with the brain drain that has struck UF this past year. The loss of staff can be largely attributed to the passing of Senate Bill 266, which limits diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at state colleges. 

A UF Faculty Senate report released in June found that 25 UF Levin College of Law faculty members, including all five African American faculty, left the university in 2023.

When asked about diversity in the admissions process, Birch said UF’s administration does not dedicate enough resources to increasing the number of Black students on campus.

“In the past, [DEI] efforts across campus have typically been lip service, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder,” Birch said. “Now that DeSantis has formally come for [DEI], it will be interesting to see how UF responds in terms of hiring, policy, admissions and funding decisions."

Black people have historically criticized the university’s practices surrounding race, she added. On April 15, 1971, Black students, faculty and staff at UF protested for higher Black student admissions and staff recruitment. 

Protestors demanded the recruitment and admission of 500 Black students, as well as the hiring of Black faculty in various departments. This day became known as Black Thursday and led to the founding of the Institute for Black Culture and the Office of Minority Student Affairs at UF.

David Canton, director of the UF African American studies program and co-author of a research paper on Black and Indigenous history at UF, offered a similar perspective about UF’s small Black student population.

“The reality is many of these first-generation or low-income students are not prioritized when addressing issues like scholarship money and summer recruitment programs,” Canton said.

Canton added that prospective Black students may also find UF unaccommodating for minority students in both its campus atmosphere and available resources.

“The perception is that [it]...feels like more of a clinical white space,” Canton said.

Canton emphasized the importance of increasing on-campus communication between UF President Ben Sasse, the Provost Office, the admissions office and other stakeholders to address the issue of limited Black student enrollment 

Although Black student admissions and enrollment have remained stagnant, there are a few programs advocating for enrolled Black UF students.

Satcha Sanon, UF's Center for Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement Black student engagement program director, works tirelessly to create spaces and opportunities for Black students to connect with their peers and service the Gainesville community.

“It is really beautiful for students to take a sigh of relief while they’re on campus because they feel as though they can do that in our spaces,” Sanon said.

Sanon highlighted the center’s Pledging to Advance Academic Capacity Together program. The welcome initiative aims to help incoming first-year Black students to create connections, learn about campus resources and familiarize themselves with strategies for success inside and outside of the classroom, she said.

Jonathan Stephens, a 20-year-old UF food science junior, said they were unsure about what to expect concerning diversity on campus before coming to UF.

“There's a lot of lived experiences and different aspects of inclusivity seen from a more diverse campus than other campuses that don't necessarily prioritize diversity in their admissions,” Stephens said.

In their classes taken at UF so far, Stephens said they feel as if the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences prioritizes academic diversity. The core values of CALS include integrity, diversity, collaboration and service.

Stephens emphasized the importance of connecting with other queer-identifying students through the UF discussion group "Black Queer Table."

The Black Queer Table discussion group is for Black, queer-identifying individuals seeking a safe space to discuss the intersectionalities of race and queerness through lived experiences, according to its website.

“I’ve built so many good friendships and bonds through that organization…[by] just talking about how life is and how I’ve navigated this world,” Stephens said.

However, intersectionality with race, gender, queerness and disability is often excluded from discussions at UF, they said.

In the opportunities provided to Stephens to assist with UF event programming, they said the discussion of Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations and intersectionality is not a priority. 

“There has been a lack of consideration for those experiences,” Stephens said. “We have a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure every decision that we [make]; we think of every person [and] not just the people that traditionally come to those meetings.”

Contact Jinelle Vazquez at Follow them on Twitter @vazquezjinelle.

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Jinelle Vazquez

Jinelle Vazquez is a senior at UF pursuing a major in Public Health with a minor in Indigenous Studies. They currently report for the enterprise desk covering health. In their free time, they enjoy hiking, photography and making art.

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