UK lacks in diversity, aims to support minority populations

Kernel Lifestyle Sig

Hailey Peters

UK students see it all the time: Signs, posters and flyers for events honoring strides that diverse populations have made at UK constantly populate campus sidewalks, bulletins and social media pages. The effort is there, but how much does the university actually represent minority populations?

The white population on campus is a staggering 73.4 percent, according to UK’s office of Institutional Research and Advanced Analytics. For students and faculty at UK, this number is not surprising at all, especially if one is a minority themselves.

“In my global business leadership class, there are two entire chapters about embracing diversity,” said Shonta Phelps, Gatton College of Business and Economics professor. “As a black woman teaching to a class that is entirely white aside from about two students, and mostly male aside from about six or seven, it’s very hard to get them to see diversity from a minority perspective. It’s not about making them feel attacked, but sometimes they think that they are. It’s always been a hard subject to teach.”

Phelps said she teaches her students to approach situations where they come into contact with “out-groups” by focusing on their actions’ impacts, not on their personal intentions.

“People are so irritated with the fact that ‘everything you say is offensive,’” Phelps said. “No one is pointing fingers. It’s just important to understand that some people have gone through very rough situations and have come from bad places. I may say something that offends you, and even though I had no intention of it, I should feel empathetic towards you and not defensive of myself. And I think a lot of students miss that point.”

Minority students on campus have access to a number of resources including the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, which “seeks to empower University of Kentucky students from ALL communities to improve their college experience by increasing access to academic, civic leadership, and cultural exchange opportunities,” according to its website, and the CARES academic enrichment center, which specializes in tutoring minorities in math and science classes.

“I’m a William C. Parker scholar, and I attend one hour per math or science course per week of group study through CARES,” said freshman neuroscience and pre-med student Maria Piva. “They also require us to attend workshops for well-being. I find them very helpful.”

Diversity can be expressed in lots of different ways. Phelps describes the outward expression of diversity, or primary definitions, as being more effective in dividing students. It can be hard for people to relate to people who look so different from them, which is why some people feel more negatively affected being a minority than others.

“I’m Latina, but I look pretty white on the outside,” Piva said. “So I haven’t faced any blatant discrimination on campus, but I have heard from others in my scholarship program that have awful stories.”

The more “different” a student looks, the worse their experience seems to get with discrimination, prejudices and biases around the campus. Kai Davis, senior agricultural and medical biotechnology major, has been at UK for four years now and said it can be very hard for minorities to fit in, despite UK’s endless efforts to be inclusive.

“Sometimes it can feel like I am the only minority here on campus, since others are so hard to find,” Davis said. “I love this campus, but I’m just not sure that this campus loves me.”

Beyond UK, the world as a whole unfortunately continues to see minorities as “others.” But college is a time to learn new things— and that does not stop after class is over. Being at UK is what many feel as a great way to become more accepting and knowledgeable of other peoples’ opinions, looks and characters.

“It’s refreshing when I do find people who look like me, or even those that aren’t that treat me like a person beyond the color of my skin,” Davis said. “It only makes me appreciate more what UK is trying to do and is headed toward and all the great people on this campus who are aiding that.”

Black History Month is upon us, and it serves to remind us to appreciate the opportunities to learn from people that do not look like us, while pushing us to not turn away from the people that need our help.

“Diversity is a touchy subject, but it is so, so good to have,” Phelps said. “In business, in college, in life, it doesn’t matter. Diversity strengthens us as individuals and as a team.”