Learning while black: The USU
By Dexter Summers
May 5, 2009 | "I know it's had an effect because we
are creatures of observation and you can't help notice
what someone looks like. If anything, it's motivated
me to be better," said Black Student Union (BSU) President
Thomas and other African-American students interviewed
for this stosry have voiced their experiences and struggles
as minority students and shared their perspectives on
diversity at USU.
Fred Ishola, a sophomore majoring in accounting and
international economics stated that, "The reason I feel
uncomfortable at Utah State University is because of
the enormous burden placed upon me. The constant need
to dispel notions of black ignorance, iniquity, and
ineptness causes immense stress; consequently, every
time I step outside of my home I am aware that I am
not only representing myself but also representing my
There are many African-American student athletes who
attend USU. There are 39 currently on the 2009 football
roster and more than 15 who are members of other sports
teams. Ishola has been asked if he's on the football
or basketball team countless times, said, "The culture
here is completely homogeneous. Only in Utah is every
African-American man accosted with the familiar phrase,
'Do you play football?' For once, I would love to be
seen as an individual who is simply interested in obtaining
an education and excelling in life."
During the 2007-2008 academic years, there were 109
Black (non-Hispanic) total undergraduates enrolled at
USU, making them the second smallest minority on campus.
"I feel like I stand out more. If I'm late for class
or if I miss class they notice because I'm not the norm,"
said Rica Molet, an undeclared freshman from Colorado
Springs, Colorado. Justin Ecung, a sophomore studying
to become an Aviation Professional Pilot from Los Angeles,
California shares this sentiment. He stated that, "When
I walk into a classroom, I feel out-of-place. I feel
like there are very few students like me with similar
backgrounds and individuals I can truly identify with."
African-American students at USU come from different
socioeconomic groups, backgrounds, families, states
and cities. A sophomore management information systems
major from Kansas City, Kansas, Jervon Graves, said,
"I came to Utah State because of the environment. My
family and I thought that it would be a great place
for me to get my education. There's not a lot of partying
or drugs, just a great learning environment, and it
will provide me with all the tools I need to succeed."
Molet said, "I wanted a new experience. Utah State
seemed open and accepting. I came from a private high
school where I was one of seven black kids, so I'm used
to being cultured into dominate race."
The Multicultural Student Services (MSS) provides
support for student success and campus multicultural
relations. According to their website, the BSU, a branch
of MSS, was created with the purpose to provide "support
for the African-American student population and encourage
campus interaction and involvement." The website further
states that the BSU "wants to promote cultural awareness
and acceptance of diversity." According to Graves, the
BSU Vice President, "BSU is one of the fastest growing
clubs on campus for the second year in a row."
"A lot of race issues or feeling like you're the only
one could be fixed by having people who understand each
other better. [Another solution is] having more opportunities
for people to step outside themselves. Giving some other
religions [on campus] a chance because we're so overwhelmed
with the Mormon Church. On Sunday's, everything shuts
down. It's hard because they [African-American students]
are forced to fit in somewhere where they're not comfortable.
Especially the out-of-state people who are black; they
are more sensitive to race," says Thomas.
Although there are some African-American students
at USU who are LDS, the majority, who are not, have
expressed that not being LDS has had a large impact
on their experience here at USU.
Shalese Clark, a junior exercise science major from
West Valley, who is African-American and LDS, said being
LDS has made it easier for her to date because it's
not hard to find anybody with the same views and upbringing.
When asked how she would describe the USU culture, she
said, "A lot of people will just see it as one dimensional:
all LDS people and all white people. But it's more than
that; you just have to see it. I feel like they're [USU]
trying to make it diverse in all sorts of ways but it's
hard to recruit because there's not as much diversity."
"I kind of feel like there is no culture here, just
Mormon. And they need to be more open to other religions
and other people. But it would be hard to do, because
a lot of people in Utah are Mormon, and the majority
of people that come from out of state are Mormon too,
so you never really get that diversity," said freshman
Amanda Peters, a non-African American and non-LDS student
from Ridgeway, Colorado. She added, "I do feel that
they [African-American students] are probably feeling
singled out. And it probably has a lot to do with the
dominant religion here, which happens to be LDS."
Ishola said, "I feel that diversity is not wanted
at Utah State University. They want to create a mirage
of diversity." Based on the interviews in the article
and others that were gathered, the sense that USU isn't
as diverse as it could be was overwhelming.