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With another college-application season starting and a new crop of black students finalizing their selections, an overarching question persists: To what degree will racist incidents on college campuses—and colleges' response to those incidents—affect black-student enrollment?
At risk are colleges’ and universities’ reputations as champions of diversity, as well as black students’ academic success.
At American University, a private university in Washington, D.
C., the commitment to cultural diversity is an integral part of its marketing and outreach to prospective students.
Then last month, it happened again: Ten confederate-flag posters with cotton stalks were pinned to AU’s campus bulletin boards. “I went to sleep that night, feeling like this situation is just so surreal,” she said.
Since the start of this academic year, black college students have been targeted in a rash of attacks—at an Ivy League university in New York, at a public college in Illinois, at a Catholic college in Pennsylvania, and at a flagship state university in Michigan.
The May 1970 Kent State University shootings—in which members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd killing students protesting the Vietnam War—caused a “tremendous blow to the reputation of the school,” according to an article on a student-news website, and that fall’s enrollment declined.
But more recent examples suggest that at in-demand schools such as American, enrollment rates are quite tenacious.
“Certainly, we are concerned about the effects on students’ sense of belonging …
and on their sense of safety and wellness.” While it’s hard to say whether AU has, compared to other universities, witnessed unusually high rates of racism on campus, the fact that it’s experienced particularly high-profile incidents makes it a case study worth analyzing.
In the spring of 2017, two days after accepting AU’s admission offer, Gray learned that bananas hung on rope fashioned into nooses—a symbol of racial terror and intimidation against black Americans—were found in several spots on AU’s campus.