Karen Valle sometimes felt like a novelty in her mostly white Overland Park neighborhood.
The last thing she wanted was to feel that way in college, too.
"It was like a tourist attraction almost," Valle said of her Hispanic heritage. "I was afraid if I went to an all-white school, it would be like that, too that they would come up to me and ask me to speak Spanish."
So after her graduation from Blue Valley Northwest, Valle figured she'd go to school in California University of Southern California or University of California-Los Angeles, maybe where more students are Hispanic.
Then Kansas University turned on the charm.
Through a series of letters and phone calls, many of them focusing on KU's diversity programs, Valle decided KU wouldn't be such a bad place to study after all. She'll be a freshman in computer science this fall.
"I was expecting schools not to be personal at all," Valle said. "That's what it was like with other schools, to tell you the truth."
Pale in comparison
It's no secret that KU's student body is predominantly white.
In fall 2000, only 8.9 percent of KU's U.S. resident students were members of minority groups. Only two Big 12 schools Kansas State University and Iowa State University had a lower percentage of minority students.
KU's minority tally has risen in the past 15 years, from 6.3 percent in 1985. The biggest jump has been in Asian and Hispanic students. But the number of black students actually decreased during that time from 776 students in 1985 to 680 students in 2000.
When Robert Hemenway took over as chancellor in 1995, he wanted to recruit 360 minority freshmen by fall 1996, or 10 percent of the freshman class. At the time, there were 346 minority freshmen, or 9.7 percent.
Five years later, in fall 2000, KU recruited 410 minority freshman, or 9.9 percent of the class. Although the number of minority freshmen is increasing like the number of total freshmen the percentage of minorities hasn't changed much. The university still hasn't reached Hemenway's goal.
Now, Hemenway shies away from setting such specific goals. Rather, he said the university "ought to be enrolling minority students in the approximate percentage as they are in society."
Even by that measure, KU is lacking. According to the 2000 census, members of minority groups make up 15.3 percent of Kansas' population, but they're only 8.9 percent of KU's student body. The discrepancy is especially apparent among blacks 5.7 percent for the state versus 2.6 percent at KU.
"The goal is to provide an education to every student in Kansas who is capable of succeeding here," Hemenway said. "I have no illusion that we're meeting that standard now."
A new plan
But there are big plans in the works to step up minority recruiting.
It started last year when the Multicultural Student Recruitment Board was established. The board made up of 21 administrators, faculty members and a student was designed to tie together minority recruitment programs across campus.
Often, schools and departments had their own minority recruiters who didn't work directly with the admissions department.
"The right hand didn't always know what the left hand was doing," said Alan Cerveny, director of admissions and scholarships. "We needed to have a university focus."
The board drafted a Multicultural Student Recruitment Plan, which outlines future recruiting efforts. The plan was endorsed by the Student Senate, and awaits approval from the provost and chancellor.
Among the plan's new focuses:
Hiring a second coordinator of multicultural student recruitment. Currently, only one person, Claudia Mercado, coordinates minority recruiting full-time. But, Cerveny says, "All of our staff recruits minority students."
The second coordinator, Ken Christmon, will start in August. He comes from Wilberforce University in Ohio, where minorities mostly blacks make up 95 percent of the student body.
A new emphasis on community-based recruitment. Mercado said recruiters want to spend more time in churches and community centers. Spending more time with families is also a goal, she said.
"With minority recruiting, it's more of a family thing, not just the students alone," Mercado said. "It's a family decision especially for first-generation minority (college) students. The whole process is unfamiliar for them."
Providing transportation for on-campus visits. Officials would like to establish a "Hawk Shuttle" to provide free transportation to and from campus for minority students from selected school districts, especially those in the Kansas City area, Topeka and Wichita.
A second group focusing on the broader picture of minorities at KU will begin meeting this fall.
The Commission on the Status of Minorities will include administrators, Student Senate representatives and members of KU's minority organizations.
The commission will emphasize three areas: student recruitment and retention, faculty recruitment and retention, and "creating a campus environment that values diversity."
The effort was spearheaded by Marlon Marshall, a senior from St. Louis, Mo., who served last year as Student Senate vice president. He'd like the board to create a year-long focus on diversity that would include activities through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Union Activities and the minority groups on campus.
It also could incorporate the Colors of KU Conference, a retreat for students of color, and the Langston Hughes Symposium, which will honor the black poet's 100th birthday in January and February.
'More wining and dining'
But in a report submitted by the Student Senate's Minority Recruitment and Retention Committee and endorsed by the Student Senate in April, committee members indicated they weren't confident the commission could make much of a difference.
"Given the university's ignoble history, we fully realize that the university will most probably publicly embrace what we have written, issue press release upon press release claiming its reverence for diversity and democracy, and then do nothing to alter the shameful homogeneity of its campus," the committee wrote.
Marshall said he's hopeful the commission "will be an action committee, not a report-making committee."
Marshall said he believes minority recruiting "has not been a priority for the University of Kansas." Marshall points to Hemenway's convocation address in 1995, when he announced his minority-recruiting goals.
During that same address, Hemenway also said the university should enroll 100 National Merit scholars by 2000. The university enrolled 116 that year.
"Merit scholars who are on campus are wined and dined and things like that," said Santos Nunez, director of KU's Multicultural Resource Center. "We have students of color who are capable of doing college work that are lumped in with the other college events. If we did more wining and dining, students would be more inclined to go to KU."
Scholarships are another lure. Currently, 50 cents from each bottle or can of soft drinks sold on campus goes toward scholarships for National Merit scholars. The Student Senate committee suggested some of the money could be used for minority scholarships.
With those kinds of resources, Marshall said, KU can be as successful at recruiting minorities as it has been with National Merit scholars. University officials say they're looking into the pop-money funding option.
Recruiters say another key factor in luring minority students is having more minority faculty. KU had 97 minority faculty members on its Lawrence campus in 1993, when the university started keeping such records. The number was 124 in 2000.
Provost David Shulenburger said the university has found several methods in this area that seem to work. One is targeting minorities for visiting professorships, then convincing them to stay at KU when the semester is over.
And he said the university isn't above simply identifying minority faculty members at other universities and offering them a job sometimes even when a department doesn't have an opening.
The university has general funds to help pay for such hirings, he said.
"That's certainly a priority for KU," he said. "We continually work with deans in departments to identify potential minority faculty members and see what we can do to recruit them. We have had some success."
Luring minority students to KU is only the first step. The university also has to keep them here.
Two years ago, the Office of Multicultural Affairs established HAWK Link, a program funded by student fees that guides minority students through orientation, advising and tutoring. Coordinators also help introduce students to other multicultural programs on campus.
Last year, HAWK Link participants had a year-to-year retention rate of 87 percent, compared with a 68 percent retention rate overall for minority students and an 80 percent retention rate for the entire university.
"We know HAWK Link works," said Robert Page, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. "It's just a matter of getting the students of color signed up."
To do that, the office secured funding from the Student Senate to call incoming freshman this summer to enroll them in the program. Last year, there were 85 students involved; Page is hoping for 200 this year.
The School of Business also has a successful minority-retention program that will be expanded to other schools in the next few years.
The Multicultural Business Scholars Program, established by associate professor Renate Mai-Dalton, has had an 85 percent overall retention rate since it began in 1992.
The business program includes establishing faculty mentors, having one-on-one meetings with Mai-Dalton and offering group events attended by students, family, faculty and donors.
Similar programs will start for journalism and education students this fall, with the possibility of more schools joining later in the semester. Plans call for the program to add from two to four academic units each year for the next three years, as donated funds allow.
"When you're a student of color coming to a predominantly white campus, your background is so much different than the mainstream student," Mai-Dalton said.
Turning the corner?
Cerveny, the admissions director, said most "minority" students are actually in the majority where they live, which is part of the challenge.
"So it's, 'Why would I go to a university where I'd be a minority student?' Whether you're white or black or whatever color, we live in a multicultural society. Students need to be better equipped to work with people in that society."
Page, a former admissions representative, is hopeful the newest push for minority recruitment will forever change the makeup of KU's student body.
But he's still unsure whether it will work. Recently, he said, HAWK Link coordinators struggled to obtain 100 KU postcards from the admissions office. They wanted to send the cards to potential HAWK Link candidates. For success, Page said, admissions officials will "have to put their money where their mouth is."