Photo by Daniel Smyth
The University of Cincinnati – and the city – found itself in the national headlines last summer during an officer-involved shooting, adding to tension and unrest already heating up in the country. On July 19, Sam DuBose, a black man, was shot in the head by now former UC police officer Ray Tensing during a traffic stop.
“Sam DuBose was the climax for ‘we’ve got to do something now,’ ” says Mitchell Phelps, UC student body president. And a group of UC students did that when they formed the Irate 8.
The Irate 8, named for the percentage of black students on campus during the 2014-15 school year, presented a list of 10 demands to UC, including increasing the number of black students and faculty members at the Clifton campus.
Kamree Maull, an undergraduate trustee, agrees with his Kappa Psi Alpha fraternity brother Phelps that the Irate 8 stemmed from the DuBose shooting and is pushing for better relations and increasing diversity and inclusion.
“The group experienced a lot of hate,” says Maull, referring to a social media backlash that included hateful and racist comments. “UC, by and large, is not as bad as those comments would suggest.”
Both Phelps and Maull knew about the lack of diversity on UC’s Clifton campus. Phelps, who is from Mansfield, Ohio, had heard about it before he arrived on campus. Maull, who grew up on the West Side of the city, experienced protests on campus as a freshman.
The percentage of black or African-American students at all campuses has hovered around eight percent since 2011 and only around seven percent at the Clifton campus. And if you separate the underrepresented minorities, their percentages are even lower, such as Hispanics or Latinos (three percent).
UC’s administration, however, was aware of the number before the demands from the Irate 8.
To improve diversity and inclusion at the Clifton Campus, it had already created an initiative, the University of Cincinnati Diversity Plan 2011. The 2011 plan contained six goals, including increasing the “number of historically underrepresented and other diverse faculty in tenure and clinical track positions” and to attract, retain and graduate students who reflect a “wide range of diversity.”
“It was a great start,” says Maull. “I think there may have been more opportunities to see to it that those things were to actually happen. That diversity plan, although not 100 percent implemented, provides a great basis for what we want diversity to look like in the future.”
As part of its Third Century Plan, which was introduced in 2013 to define UC’s priorities for the next 19 years, the school announced in December 2015 that it is investing $40 million into faculty diversity and inclusion efforts. The Black Unity Coalition, a group of former faculty, students and community leaders, submitted their own plan that focused further attention to the diversity gap on campus the following day.
The coalition’s plan called for increasing diversity in the student body and the faculty as well. One could argue that UC’s faculty is diverse on the surface, with university
President Santa Ono at the helm and Bleuzette Marshall as the chief diversity officer. But the diversity statistics for fall 2015 showed only 100 black or African-American employees hold full-time faculty positions – around 4 percent. Black UC also stressed the importance of the university’s diversity efforts because of its location in a black, urban community. Citywide, blacks or African-Americans comprise 46 percent of the population.
Another effort by UC to improve its standing with critics is a $4 million investment in hiring a cluster of six tenured faculty members dubbed Urban Futures. They will focus on issues facing urban areas, including race or racism, poverty, educational equality, among others.
Both Phelps and Maull have been active in creating a culturally diverse environment at UC. The College of Business students are engaged in the African American Cultural Resource Center (AACRC). They are campus leaders trying to affect change, whether it’s through Phelps’ involvement on the committee to select a new UC police chief and assistant chief or Maull’s prior mentorship in the College of Business’ fellows program and in the AACRC.
Phelps thinks things have gotten better since he came to the Clifton campus three years ago, “but efforts still need to be made. My hope is that we increase visual diversity.
“But I do recognize diversity is more than what we can see: It’s our thoughts. What we’re here to do is learn so we can be successful in our post-graduate environments, and there we’re going to be working with all types of individuals.”
Maull says, “I think, right now, UC is in the best state to move things forward with president Ono, Bleuzette Marshall … as it relates to diversity and inclusion.”