Some black students don’t think Chapman is a good fit. Here’s why

Troy Allen, the former president of Black Student Union, is transferring to Northwestern University in the fall, a move that she says is prompted by racial tensions. Photo by Cassidy Keola

The former president of the Black Student Union (BSU) is leaving Chapman, in part due to the pressures and tensions she feels are associated with race at the university.

“There are students who are not receptive to the fact that because you are black, you might experience things differently,” said Troy Allen, an undeclared sophomore. “It’s the ignorance to not having been exposed to many black friends, which is a latent effect of class divides.”

At Chapman, just 1.7 percent of students are black, while around half are white. Chapman’s undergraduate enrollment has increased by 1,000 students since fall 2014 according to the Chapman website, but its proportion of black students has remained about the same.

Allen is not leaving for academic reasons, and she doesn’t regret her time at the university. But she said that challenges played a part in her decision.

“Even though I love the black community that we do have, there is that pressure where you ask yourself, ‘Should I only have black friends or should I try to assimilate?’” she said.

Other factors contributing to Allen’s impending transfer to Northwestern University include feeling lonely in what she described as a Greek life-oriented social climate. There is no one solution to making the environment more inclusive and supportive of black students, she said, and that change should come from the students themselves.

“It is hard for the administration to do things without the incentive of the students,” Allen said.

While there was a “definite reason” she came to Chapman, Allen said there are steps the university can take to ensure that every student feels included.

In 2014, Chapman’s retention rate was slightly lower for black students than that of white students. Although it has improved slightly since 2014, contributing factors to Allen’s impending transfer are still present on campus.

In fall 2017, the retention rate was 91.3 percent for black students, compared to 89.3 percent for white students, according to the Chapman website. The rate is an increase from previous years. In 2014, Chapman retained 82.4 percent of black students and 90.2 percent of white students.

Although the retention rate has improved, Marcela Mejia-Martinez, assistant vice president of admission at Chapman, said that the lower number of black students enrolled at Chapman is part of a nationwide pattern of more white students applying to college.

Admissions tries to counter this, Mejia-Martinez said, with diversity programming, that includes having students from target groups visit campus, and designating an admissions counselor work on diversity initiatives.

“About 22 to 25 percent of students choose Chapman,” Mejia-Martinez said. “When I look at our African-American population, the yield rate– about 14 to 15 percent – is significantly lower,” she said.

Although the Office of Admissions aims to admit more students of color, assuring that they will have a positive experience on campus proves more challenging.

The black experience isn’t the same for all students,” Mejia-Martinez said. “We’re looking to bring that type of diversity to the table.”

One resource for students of color and marginalized groups on campus is the Cross-Cultural Center (CCC), established in 2017.

“The CCC isn’t just for one identity, it is for all students so they can come by and learn about different communities,” said Tim Topper, a Student Engagement program coordinator. “It provides affirmation and support for black students who want to find people who can discuss like-minded issues,” he said.

Outside of Black History Month events, there is not much additional programming for black students, except for a black graduation ceremony, said Negeen Lotfi, another Student Engagement program coordinator.

Despite the administration’s efforts to foster a more diverse student body, some stratification still exists.

Tendo Sematimba, a former Chapman student, transferred to Chaffey College after their freshman year ended in 2016. Chaffey, located in Rancho Cucamonga, California, had an 8.8 percent black student population and 17.7 percent white population in 2015, according to the college’s official fact sheet. After their year at Chapman, Sematimba felt that their ethnicity had a predominant role in their experience on campus.

“Other students were not as welcoming and there were a lot of microaggressions,” Sematimba said. “There weren’t many resources for black people on campus.”

While Sematimba was a student at Chapman, the Cross-Cultural Center had not yet been established. The Black Student Union “was all I had,” they said.

Sematimba told The Panther that they believe the current Cross-Cultural Center does not solve the “limited” resources that Chapman has on campus for black students.

Jerry Price, dean of students, said that the main focus of his department is to take into account the education students are receiving and their career goals, while also trying to address concerns related to identity.

“It’s naive to think that an African-American student on a predominately white campus will have the same challenges as another student of color. It’s going to be different,” Price said.