For the first time in Western’s history, over one-fourth of the student body is comprised of students of color, but the freshman class saw a decrease in African American, Native American and Pacific Islander students.
Western’s freshman class was the largest ever, with 2,888 students — 81 more than the record-breaking enrollment of last year — but wasn’t as successful in acquiring ethnically diverse students as in previous years, said Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services Eileen Coughlin.
The decrease in these populations on campus can be attributed to increased competition from the University of Washington, bad publicity Western received late last year and the lack of an assistant director of multicultural outreach in the admissions department, Coughlin said.
“It’s reflected in our freshman numbers, but not reflected [overall] because our continuing students came back,” Coughlin said. “I think it disproportionately impacted first-generation, low-income, diverse students.”
Former Western President Bruce Shepard cancelled one day of classes due to a racial threat made toward the former Associated Students president, garnering national attention and triggering discussions on campus about efforts to increase diversity.
Hispanic and Asian students contributed to the largest increase of students of color this fall, according to Western Today. The number of African American, Pacific Islander and American Indian students decreased down to 25 percent after peaking last year at 30 percent.
“An increase with more types of students will give a different environment. People could learn new things from different people.”
Alan Alatorre-Barajas, the Associated Students Ethnic Student Center cultural education coordinator, said better outreach could be why more students of color are enrolling at Western.
“Students are constantly going out to their communities and promoting higher education,” Alatorre-Barajas said. “Most students in the Ethnic Student Center expect now that more persons of color will come to the university.”
Junior Nicholas Kim, a computer science pre-major, said Western could better promote diversity by providing more cultural events.
“I am all for an increase in diversity. An increase with more types of students will give a different environment. People could learn new things from different people,” Kim said.
Increasing diversity on campus was a major goal for Former President Bruce Shepard, who saw a major increase in students of color over his eight years as president. In 2008, students of color comprised only 18.4 percent of the student body.
“If we are as white in ten years as we are today, Western will have failed as a university,” Shepard said in his inaugural speech. Of the 14,950 students enrolled for fall quarter of 2014, 23.6 percent were students of color.
Current Western President Sabah Randhawa said there is still much to be done to increase diversity on campus.
“We are working with [AS President] Stephanie Cheng in the AS board to schedule some student forums to get their take about their experiences at Western, but also about the climate at the institution and how can we help improve it,” Randhawa said.
Western’s Equal Opportunity Office has begun implementing multiple diversity initiatives, including a redesign of the Ethnic Student Center to be completed in 2019. Other plans include Native American outreach, work groups on responding to sexual violence and a $5.6 million request for additional funding to support a more inclusive environment on campus.