How to Provide Minorities with a Richer College Experience

College is often an exciting and unique place to be for students and faculty alike, and the college experience is something that many Americans prize today. But it is possible that minorities miss out on some of the opportunities their white counterpart’s experience? Read on and learn some reasons minorities may find their college experience lacking.

Colleges in the United States are captivating places. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, some are major research hubs (such as Johns Hopkins University with its $2.2 billion annual research and development budget). They are also hot education destinations for some 270,000 new Chinese students each year. Many colleges are still expensive and average $9,140 in tuition every year, still, churn out business and marketing majors, and are the ticket to landing a better job.

But for minorities, college can also be inaccessible and hostile places. And this doesn’t just apply to students, either. It applies even more to faculty (the overwhelming majority are white) and, as you’ll read soon, to college football coaches.

Here, I will share with you how minorities often experience college. I’ll also give some suggestions on what to do to enhance the college experience for minorities.

The first step to having a positive college experience

College would be a lot more enjoyable if you were prepared for it, right?

Unfortunately, when it comes to minorities who graduate high school and are ready for the rigor of college coursework, numbers are bleak. A new report from the College of Education at the University of Arizona found that less than 1 in 10 minority high school graduates in the state are adequately prepared for college. Non-minority students are not much better off, though, with only 2 in 10 prepared for college after graduating from high school. A rise over the past 15 years in minority students in elementary and high school in the state, as well as economic disparities between students of color and their white peers, are cited in the study as drivers behind the high school graduation-college readiness gap.

Arizona should not be singled out, though. Of the 1.7 million high school graduates that opted for the ACT college entrance exam in 2012, only 60 percent were deemed “college-ready.”

Arizona is a standout example, though, of the way the changing landscape of the country is impacting P-12 education and the college demands that follow it. Childhood classrooms today look vastly different from the ones even ten years ago and children, minority or white, come with different need sets. Teachers can learn only so much from textbooks and their school experiences – they must have the resources to reach students from different backgrounds, and understand how those students will change over the course of the teachers’ careers.

In the case of Arizona, some mandatory Spanish-language education would be a start, but the language barrier is only the tip of the iceberg. If students in Arizona classrooms are first-generation Americans, their parents are not familiar on a firsthand basis with classrooms in America and certainly not the university system.

Even students who are academically ready for college may not be emotionally ready for the pressure and responsibilities of self-learning – both things that need to be taught before high school ends.

I also think that the assimilation mentally of generations-past needs to be forsaken. It seems that all of the energy that goes into trying to “change” minority students who enter the classroom would be better spent adjusting teaching methods to ones of inclusion. The global economy demands that students understand that the world is made up of diverse people with a variety of backgrounds, and languages. To succeed as a nation, that recognition must take place, and those lessons must be included in the process of educating.

The “passing the baton” mentality also needs to be abandoned if students are truly expected to succeed academically after high school ends. If America truly wants to live up to its “Land of Opportunity” moniker, this generation of P-12 students needs to be viewed as a responsibility of their educators long after the high school graduation benchmark has been met. Instead of letting students make their mistakes in early adulthood, at least when it comes to the future of their careers and livelihoods, educators should stay involved and help bridge the high school-college gap.

Why Hollywood makes it all even worse

The 88th Oscars certainly stirred the pot on diversity in Hollywood, and how it impacts the rest of society.

Whether you are a fan of Hollywood, or Chris Rock, or none of the above, it’s important to understand the impact of what we see on-screen – and what it means for our next generation of P-20 students.

A recent report from Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism highlights the “whitewashing” of Hollywood films. In essence, the report found that even when there are roles available for minorities, they are given to white actors who then “dress the part” to pull it off. The roles the report mentions go above and beyond the old-school blackface that white actors used to throw on in film’s earliest days. Some are simply characters that were historical of color but were changed to have Caucasian characteristics in the films.

If you’ve been paying any attention to Hollywood over the past decade, none of these findings are shocking. In one of the most purportedly progressive industries in the world, women and minorities get much less screen time, talking time, and pay than their white, male peers.

So what does all of this mean when it comes to our college students? How does something as seemingly insignificant as Hollywood affect diversity in higher education?

Not enough role models

We already know that there are just not enough roles for black actors in movies or on television but let’s break that down a little further. Think about some of the most popular movies that showcased college students in the past decade – Neighbors, Old School, Van Wilder. In the spirit of classics like Animal House, these movies represented the fun side of earning a college degree in a constant state of inebriation but most of the students were white. You can probably spot a token minority character in each, but the lead roles all went to white males who, despite their often ridiculous antics, were still awarded degrees in the end. If they weren’t awarded degrees, they still landed on their feet with some other sort of job (unrealistic for all college students). The problem with leaving black students out of this college conversation on film is that it subtly sends a message that a higher education is something reserved for white, privileged men (and some women, too).

The scenario doesn’t improve when movies graduate to the adult world. When you think of a black man in a movie that is set in contemporary times, what role comes to mind? A police officer or detective? A drug dealer or pimp? How about a black woman? Except for breakthrough roles like Viola Davis’ lead in the hit TV series “How to Get Away with Murder,” there are not a lot of women in professional roles on-screen. As already mentioned, even roles that could feasibly be played by people of color are given to white people who are then praised for their outstanding performances acting like a person totally different from who they are. In truth, minorities are a vibrant, important part of the American workforce. They are professionals (who aren’t always in law enforcement), teachers, CEOs and small business owners. Where are these characters on screen?

The problem with slave movies

Even historical films have their issues when it comes to the way diversity is portrayed. Hollywood likes to pat itself on the back for films like Twelve Years a Slave but do they represent progress? These movies certainly tell important stories, but they provide roles that show black actors in a stereotypical light. Why have the only black-led films to win Best Picture awards centered on slavery? It’s almost as if Hollywood has decided that to fix this problem of diversity on screen, movies that have “black” roles need to be made.

That’s not the entire solution, though. How about making that fictional lead character who is a teacher a black actor? Putting black actors in a ready-made film category is part of the problem; it further distances them from the mainstream movie industry. It essentially sends the message that only explicitly black roles go to black actors – and that hurts the overall portrayal of diversity everywhere, including on college campuses.

Solving the Hollywood diversity problem won’t directly improve inclusion on college campuses, but it certainly can’t hurt. As higher education professionals, we should support the push to change what we see on screen – and point out the problem whenever possible to our students of all races and ethnicities.

Learning what matters to minority students

The upcoming elections are a great time to find out what issues are important to minority college students.

After all, there’s a lot of rhetoric in election years centering on young voters. What do young people want from politicians, and how can those politicians get those young people registered and to the polls? While voters who are older than college and young-adult age certainly outnumber this group, understanding what college students want from the people they elect matters a lot – both short term and long term.

So what do the college students, particularly minorities, want during the election of 2016?


If we’ve learned anything since Mitt Romney’s race for the Presidency in 2012, it’s this: Telling college students to have their parents “write a check” for their education just isn’t going to fly. Asking college students to take on heavy loads of debt is also a no-go. The students entering college today have the advantage of their not-so-much-older graduated peers who are more vocal than any other group in the past about why college attendance needs to be more affordable.

It makes sense. No one feels the squeeze of what college costs than the students who are living it and the young adults attempting to pay back high amounts of college debt on low salaries. Today’s college students saw their parents struggle through the latest recession. Some may have even lost homes. They are well aware of what a load of college debt means, and why it is imperative that affordable options be available to students from all life backgrounds.

President Obama’s proposal to have two free years of community college available for students who qualify academically has been met enthusiastically by young people all over the country, and their parents. Pay it Forward programs, like the one in place at Oregon state colleges, are being welcomed with open arms. The idea that hard work, not economic background, can help reduce the overall cost of obtaining a degree resonates with a lot of young people.

Today’s college students want a candidate who recognizes the significant financial sacrifice of earning a degree but who also believes it should cost less, period. This is an advantage particularly to Bernie Sanders, should he land the Democratic nomination, and even Donald Trump could be viewed favorable by young people for his public denouncement of federal loan programs that profit off of college students and parents. Hillary Clinton has also spoken out about not “saddling” students with decades of debt simply to earn an education.

Social issues

When President Obama too office in 2008, the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation was a far-fetched one. It was an issue that had passionate discourse on both sides, but not one that appeared it would move forward in the course of the President’s two terms. Thanks to very vocal supporters, and also to the rise of social media informing more people of the issue and hand and humanizing it, we all know that progress was made faster than anticipated.

The same is true of other issues now seeing greater awareness, in part again because of social media. Some of those include paid maternity/paternity leave, abortion, and reproductive regulations, and the gender- and race-gap when it comes to wages. These are important to college students and boils down to their elected officials doing what is right by them, and their peers. The social issues that matter most to each college student will determine the particular candidate of choice, and a range of conservative and liberal stances are represented among frontrunners Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.


College students today are hyper-aware of the issues surrounding sustainability on the planet. From oil fracking to water conservation to global warming – these young voters care what happens to the place they call home. Denial of such issues as problems is futile. Donald Trump’s recent comments that he wants to revive the coal industry are sure to turn off most young voters while Hillary Clinton has vowed to push comprehensive energy changes that support renewable sources and clean energy technology.

It’s almost surreal to think that by this time next year, we will have a new Commander in Chief. While college voters may not make the biggest impact at the polls, their voice will make a difference in who is chosen – and how that person is held accountable while maintaining the highest office in the land.

Is Entrepreneurship Pushed Enough for Minority Students?

In my decade-plus of working in higher education, I’ve noticed a trend when it comes to minority students: encouraging them to learn skills for jobs with high demand. Healthcare is a good example. We need more nurses, more certified nursing assistants, more X-ray technicians and so as a collective group, we push minorities towards these fields. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are other areas where we see an uptick in the aggressive push to find trained workers to fill openings. A US News analysis by Jonathan Rothwell found that advertising for STEM vacancies lasts more than twice as long as other fields and that there are roughly 4 million computer science jobs needed in America and only 400,000 graduates with those skills every year.

So we see that demand, and we tell students that’s where they should focus their learning efforts if they want to be successful, land a job, and contribute best to the economy as a whole. It’s not a bad practice from a job security standpoint. Training traditionally disadvantaged students in fields where they will likely find work is a sound principal. In doing this, however, are we neglecting the leadership opportunities where minority workers are so desperately needed?

In the push to fill demand in the already-established workforce, are we forgetting about the leadership and innovation possible with entrepreneurship?

Stats on Entrepreneurship in the U.S.

Most of the businesses in the United States are small ones, by definition. Some are sole proprietors, and some employ others (small businesses account for 55 percent of all U.S. employment). Collectively small businesses bring in 54 percent of all annual revenue in the U.S, according to the Small Business Administration.

Even though minorities are nearing the majority of the population, minorities head just 14.6 percent of businesses in the U.S. Black business owners make up 49.9 percent of that figure, and Asians are 29.6 percent. Hispanic business owners are at just 10.3 percent, but are the fastest growing minority business owning group, according to the SBA.

Many of these entrepreneurs do not possess MBAs or advanced leadership degrees. They are simply people who have melded their skills and talent into a business model that works. What if those people were given entrepreneurship advantages when they were still in college, but within their programs? What if, in the case of minorities, those classes were tailored to fit the challenges and needs of a traditionally at-risk population that is underrepresented in business leadership? Imagine the way those small businesses would look if their owners had just a little boost of support when it came to leadership skills.

What Can Colleges Do?

Colleges and universities should not just recruit diverse students for fields that need more workers – they should recruit them for every field. This means taking a few extra steps to get those students in leadership roles, no matter what their desired career, and not just training them to feed a pipeline of vacant jobs. Those steps include to:

Incorporate entrepreneurship in all fields. Let’s not simply train our students to work for someone else – let’s train them to start and run their companies. In every field entrepreneurship classes and paths should be available and students should know what it takes to rise to the top of their fields.

Hire minorities for leadership spots. Let’s show our diverse student populations what minority leadership looks like in practice by having higher education spots filled with them. Empower these college leaders to speak to classes on leadership and to be a present face that students relate to on a regular basis.

Administer leadership testing. Not every person is cut out to lead, but many may have the traits, but have never been given the opportunity. Colleges should administer leadership tests for all students, or at least those that show promise in their fields. From there, these leaders should be fed into a mentorship program that further builds their skill level.

Our mentality when it comes to educating minority students at the college level needs to shift from one that values necessity to one that envisions a brighter future. That starts by giving more minority students access to leadership skills and fanning the flame of interest.

What to tell our college students instead of “toughen up.”

In a piece for The Washington Post, Ferentz Lafargue, the director for the Davis Center which explores positive social change at Williams College in Massachusetts, pushes back against the mentality that protecting college students from hate speech and discrimination “coddles them.”

Lafargue’s comments come on the heels of two canceled speakers on the campus that had unpopular views. The first, conservative Suzanne Venker who has voiced her opinion that feminism has failed, and the second John Derbyshire, a mathematician who once wrote for the National Review until his writing revealed him to have racist views. Venker’s appearance was canceled following student backlash, and Derbyshire’s was canceled by the university president himself.

Lafargue applauds the university’s actions in both cases. He counters that allowing such speakers at the expense of college students does not prepare them for the real world. It implies that wanting to change those attitudes is wrong.

In the piece, Lafargue writes:

The real culprits — on campuses and in the real world — are the persistent effects of homophobia, income inequality, misogyny, poverty, racism, sexism, white supremacy and xenophobia. When students refuse to accept discrimination on college campuses, they’re learning important lessons about how to fight it everywhere.

Lafargue’s spot-on analysis got me thinking a little more about the role of college campuses in changing the future “real world” that exists after students earn their degrees. Instead of telling these students to toughen up, perhaps we should tell them these things instead:

Your words matter

Whether you are speaking out against injustice or belittling a peer, what you say makes an impact on the larger world. This goes for verbal words that come directly out of your mouth and those that are written – in emails, in texts, on social media, and more. Use those words to lift others up and to further causes that benefit society and beyond. You do not need to tolerate the words of another that offend you – ever. Know who you are and speak those truths into existence.

You don’t deserve discrimination

Hate, intolerance, and judgment are not just acceptable parts of life. They are wrong, plain and simple. Just because they exist, and have since the dawn of time, does not make them a part of your life that you must simply deal with and move past. You cannot change the way a particular person thinks or acts but always recognize that the fault is with them, not you. It’s not your job to adjust to a world that discriminates against you unfairly.

Progress is hard but worth it

The road to positive change is full of obstacles. Sometimes working towards that change is downright disheartening. This doesn’t mean to just accept the status quo. It means to work even harder to push back against the negative viewpoints and deep-rooted belief systems that are holding that progress back. It’s not an easy task to steer a ship a new direction, especially one that goes against the current, but it’s necessary to get to a new place. Never stop fighting the good fight. Eventually, with persistence and optimism, you will win.

Youth is not a disadvantage

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you that your lack of years lessens your importance. Your viewpoint matters just as much, if not more, than those whose opinions are more about hardened lines than true progress. Use your voice and all of that youthful passion for blazing new trails. Your inexperience in the ways of the world makes you an asset to it because your choices are based less on outside influence.

You are safe here

At least while you are on this campus, and a student at this school, we will have your best interest at heart. Nowhere in our university mission does it say that we strive to toughen you up for the real world by allowing you to be attacked, verbally or otherwise. You matter to us. You are protected. You are a priority.

We can’t coddle our college students by insisting they demand fairness. Let’s stand behind them as they continue the good work to progress past discrimination and backward thinking. Let’s believe together that the next iteration of the real world ushered in by our best and brightest will be an even better one than what we see today.

Why isn’t there enough diversity in college sports coaching?

College sports are incredibly popular.  People of all genders, races, and cultures are avid fans of sports like football and basketball—even at the college level. The diversity in college sports leadership does not reflect the diversity of the sports-viewing audience, or even of the athletes themselves.

Let’s specifically talk about college football for a moment. It is arguably the most popular sport at the nation’s colleges and universities. Bringing in over $90 million annually in revenue at the highest grossing University of Texas, it is no wonder that school leaders view the football team as less of an extracurricular activity and more of a moneymaker. The revenue that is generated by college football programs only represents a small piece of the overall financial benefits. Schools with strong athletic programs, particularly in the area of football, bring in more prospective students and have larger booster groups in place.

The Facts

Not many African-American head coaches at the college level have had the same success as Strong – mainly because many have not been given a chance. Of the 124 Division 1-A college football schools, only 15 had African American coaches in the 2012 season, according to an executive report by the Black Coaches Association. The Big Ten conference has seen zero black head coaches in the past ten years.

While head coaches are the most visible, support positions are severely underrepresented as well. Only 312 of 1,018 of college football assistant coaches are black, and only 31 of 255 of offensive and defensive coordinators are African American. Combined, black football coaches and support staff represent a measly 5 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision numbers.

At Division II and Division III schools, diversity is even worse. The Black Coaches Association reports that in the 2012 season, only nine schools of 113 in these two categories had head coaches of color. These numbers exclude historically black universities.

The Problem

Despite the thousands of black college football players in recent decades, barely a handful of them have been trusted with leading teams. These ex-players obviously understand the game and know what college athletes face on the field — so what gives?

Part of the problem is that schools are quick to dismiss coaches of all backgrounds when immediate improvement does not take place. The most recent high-profile example was the firing of Jon Embree by the University of Colorado in November. Floyd Keith of the Black Coaches Association called the firing a “disappointment” and wished that the school had given Embree a third season to prove himself. The school pointed to a 4-21 record over the course of two seasons as the reason for the firing but critics, like Keith, say that just two years is simply not enough time to turn a team around.

Many critics are also quick to point out that white coaches with bad numbers are often still considered a hot commodity by other schools when they are on the market, whereas black coaches have historically been given just one shot to prove their talent.

It is also important to note that a college football coach does not have the same responsibilities as an NFL one. Winning is valuable to the university, but so are other aspects like graduation rates of players and team conduct. Both play an indirect role in the revenue the school can generate in future years by attracting new students. With turnover rates of all college coaches rising every football season, a shift toward a “winning takes place on the field” mentality is evident.


The statistics are indisputable when it comes to underrepresentation of African Americans in all levels of college football coaching. With so much being said about this issue, not much in the way of problem solving has arisen. Colleges and universities would do well to take a cue from the NFL when it comes to hiring minority coaches. Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for all vacant head coaching positions and other executive football operation spots. After just three seasons, the Rooney Rule lead to an increase of 22 percent in the number of African-American head coaches in the NFL and those numbers rise every season. A similar rule only makes sense in a college athletic setting, especially since so many other aspects of higher education use affirmative action programs to bolster diversity and opportunity.

Another possible option is for schools to set up coaching mentorship programs for minority players that show leadership potential. An even better approach would be an NCAA-sanctioned program that seeks out talented players and gives them some exposure to coaching and maybe even a certificate program. These earmarked players could then begin working their way through the coaching ranks sooner and have a common knowledge base.

All changes need to be initiated by the NCAA, college athletics governing body. For a real dynamic shift to be felt across the board, every school needs to have the same diversity opportunities and rules as all the others. It is not enough to wish that more schools took a closer look at African Americans to fill head football coaching spots; an overarching game plan needs to be in place for true change to occur.

It’s not just college football that needs an overhaul, either

If there was ever a space to easily incorporate more diversity on college campuses, it’s in athletics. From physical trainers to marketing offices to head coaching spots, it’s a sub-area of the college landscape that benefits greatly from varied backgrounds and points of view.

Richard Lapchick of the University of Central Florida has published his Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport since the early 2000s. Lapchick is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at UCF, and his latest version of the report evaluates racial and gender issues in college sports in 2014.

The latest report has the worst combined grades for racial and gender hiring numbers for college sports since the report was first issued.  Of the dismal stats, Lapchick said: “It was especially bad news that the opportunity for people of color among men’s and women’s basketball head coaches declined significantly.”

According to the numbers, and Lapchick himself, the state of diversity in college coaching is getting worse.

So how did we get here? Colleges are supposedly some of the most progressive places in the nation, and we continue to see problems with hiring practices when it comes to racial and gender diversity – in administrations, in tenure-track professorships, and in athletics. Perhaps the more important question, though, is what we should do now to improve the diversity in college athletics, especially coaching. Colleges can take a few immediate steps to try to remedy the situation, including to:

Take a cue from pro sports

While professional sports certainly have their share of diversity problems, they at least have some policies in place to turn that tide. The most visible of these is the Rooney Rule, a National Football League policy that makes it mandatory for all teams to interview minority applicants when there are head coaching or senior leadership positions open. There are certainly those who have pointed out, and rightly so, that the Rooney Rule isn’t having as big a positive impact as intended. Still, the mere awareness the publicity surrounding it has brought to the lack of diversity in the NFL, and other professional sports leagues, is worth noting. Colleges should do the same thing, and they should start by looking at the candidates already working in their programs or athlete alumni members.

Put players on coaching tracks

Leadership on college teams doesn’t just happen from above. There are players within the team ranks who rise above and exhibit traits worthy of leaders. These players may not always have the best stats or the most acclaim, but they are evident in the way they treat their teammates and strategize the game. When coaches see these players, they need to speak up and encourage these young players to consider coaching later on.

Start small

The head coaches get most of the spotlight when it comes to sports, professional and college, but there are plenty of other opportunities for diversity. A college that truly wants diversity at the highest levels of sports organizations needs to start by looking for opportunities to hire minorities and women in the lower spots too. By doing this, colleges can build a feeder system of diverse candidates who can aspire to the highest positions and will arrive at them more than qualified.

Hire more women

It’s common for men to be head coaches on women’s teams, but incredibly rare for women to coach men. At the very least, women should be coaching their sports. There are plenty of positions that women are more than capable of filling in the positions on the way to top spots, too. Rather than writing off college sports as too tough or “manly” for women, the culture surrounding it needs to shift to view the input of women as equally valuable as their male counterparts.

Diversity in college coaching won’t just happen on its own. It will take targeted initiatives from individual colleges and universities and the entire college athletic system as a whole. That starts with recognition of a problem and the right leadership to step up and vow to better the situation.


Let’s make college truly welcoming for everyone

In an increasingly diverse society, it is best for us as Americans to make sure that we are all getting access to the same opportunities. As educators, keeping an eye out for what equality looks like on college campuses is also a good idea, especially for those of us who work or plan to work at a college or university.

Many colleges claim to value diversity and inclusion. I hope that some of them will put their money where their mouth is and move toward solutions (such as those I have suggested) to promote a great experience for those who attend or work in a college.

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