Oklahoma State University is becoming more diverse, according to research conducted by OSU’s Institutional Research and Information Management office.
Statistics show a 47 percent increase in new freshmen from fall 2009 to fall 2010 for four major ethnic groups: African-American, Asian-American, Latino/Hispanic and Native American.
Christie Hawkins, director of Institutional Research and Information Management, said the ethnic breakdown is not all-inclusive, but is based on the categories mandated by the federal government.
She said students of foreign citizenship are counted as nonresident aliens. The statistics also combine the OSU campuses in Stillwater and Tulsa.
In 2005, OSU created the Division of Institutional Diversity, which has a staff of about 30 people.
Jason Kirksey, OSU’s associate vice president for the division, said only his position existed before 2005. He has served as vice president since April 2009.
Kirksey said his office focuses on attracting and retaining a diverse faculty, staff and student population. He said in the past several years, OSU has been successful in bringing more diverse students to campus.
He said the 2010 freshman class has a record number of students and about a quarter of that class is minorities.
A diverse population benefits everyone at the university, not just those from certain backgrounds, Kirksey said.
He said diversity comes not just in the form of people but of ideas and experiences that benefit OSU as an institution.
“The life experiences that I bring to the classroom are different than those that my colleagues bring to the classroom,” Kirksey said.
Catherine Vijayakumar, Asian-American Affairs coordinator, said her office works closely with undergraduate admissions to help recruit minority students.
Vijayakumar is also the adviser to the Asian-American Student Association and the Vietnamese-American Student Association.
She said OSU is going the right direction as far as being welcoming and friendly to students of diverse backgrounds.
“We live in a global community,” Vijayakumar said. “The more students are exposed to diversity on this campus, the better for them.”
Robin Williams, Native-American affairs coordinator, said OSU has stepped up its commitment to diversity in the last five years.
Williams said the biggest challenge of diversity is making sure every voice is heard, even the most silent.
She said diversity is beneficial because of the multiple perspectives offered, not only in ethnicity, but also in disability, age and sexual orientation.
Having this diversity leads to a more global mindset rather than just a linear vision, and helps students adapt in diverse environments when they leave college, she said.
Williams said it is also important to have diversity in faculty members or at least an understanding of different perspectives.
“Our faculty are the ones that are in the classrooms, and if they have stereotypes or certain biases and they expose them to the classroom, that might encourage isolation or a less welcoming campus,” Williams said.
Having diverse students and faculty is related because minority students are attracted to schools with diverse students and faculty, Kirksey said.
He also said the number of minority tenured faculty at OSU has risen by 36 members in the past five years.
Cammilia Holmes, a broadcast production junior, said she sees the diversity on campus and that it is part of what attracted her to OSU.
Holmes, an African-American student, said OSU has something on campus for everyone, no matter what his or her interests or majors are.
“I love the cultural dinners the campus does so we can experience the culture and cuisine of another country,” Holmes said. “To me that shows diversity.
However, some students think diversity efforts at OSU could go further.
David Purdie, a public relations senior, said there could be even more diversity on campus.
“The campus is diverse to a point, but it still needs a push to help it grow better,” he said.
Purdie is the president of the Vietnamese-American Student Association and a member of the student committee that promotes diversity on campus.
Purdie and committee members have held meetings with OSU President Burns Hargis as part of their effort to increase diversity enrichment programs, he said.
Vijayakumar said it can be challenging to recruit Asian-American students because they make up a small percentage of students statewide.
Linh Sherman, an engineering sophomore, is Asian-American. She said people should be more involved with different groups.
“When I look around on campus, I see different races, different groups, sororities, fraternities and people with different majors segregated on campus,” Sherman said.
Sherman is a member of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity, and said she thinks it would promote diversity if students got more involved in organizations focused on a cause.
“This would make different people with different personalities and cultures join for a different purpose, other than race and majors,” Sherman said.
Her other ideas for making the campus more diverse include a group competition on campus in which members of every group can participate.
Kirksey said the Institutional Diversity office also works to create environmental awareness, because the environment of campus has to be open, welcome and respectful to different backgrounds.
He said the goal is to ultimately “produce campus communities that are socially, culturally and globally competent.”