SGA working toward diversifying UMass campus

By Anthony Rentsch

One of the main goals for the Student Government Association at the University of Massachusetts this year is to increase diversity. The SGA hopes to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities, first-generation and low-income students on campus by 5 percent over the next five years.

“We need to do a better job attracting underrepresented minority students,” said Josh Odam, the secretary of diversity for the SGA.

In the fall 2013 semester, according to the Office of Institutional Research, 78 percent of UMass students were white, while underrepresented minority students, including American Indians, Alaskan natives, blacks/African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders made up only 22 percent.

Odam stressed the importance of making sure that the racial demographics of in-state students are representative of statewide racial demographics. Data from the United States Census Bureau and the Office of Institutional Research, for example, show that the percentage of black/African American UMass students in the fall of 2013 was about half of the percentage of blacks/ African Americans in the state.

“This is a land-grant institution, so we should at least match up to the demographics of the state,” Odam said.

One area that Odam said he especially wants to and has the power to focus on is the SGA itself. Of the current 50 senators in the SGA, there are 16 students of color.

“We want to focus on maintaining diversity within the Senate,” Odam said. “Our goal is to mobilize students of color to run for office in the SGA.  We want people who look like us to represent us.”

In addition to maintaining diversity within the senate, Odam hopes that the SGA can return to the forefront of racial issues on campus. In recent years, Odam said that the SGA has taken a backseat to other student organizations, like the Center for Education and Policy Advocacy and Student Bridges.

According to Odam, a multifaceted approach will have to be utilized to achieve these diversity goals. Apart from increasing the sheer number of minority students at the University, there must also be appropriate support systems for these students. This is a project Danielle Laroque, the undersecretary of diversity for the SGA, is pursuing.

“There seems to be disconnect between the community of color and the rest of campus,” Laroque said. “We are trying to bridge the gap.”

Laroque has plans for an international day, a movie night and other events that promote a sense of community and belonging for underrepresented minority students on campus.

“By the end of this semester we want to get (the underrepresented minority students) out there more,” Laroque said. “We want to tap into the connection between the SGA and student organizations.”

While the SGA’s goals will have an effect on minority students, they also promise to benefit the UMass community as a whole.

“Education benefits all students,” Odam said. “We all need to experience different ways of living and thinking. As the global economy is shifting, students need a diverse education.”

In the future, Odam and Laroque said the SGA would expand its focus to other pressing diversity issues, including gender equality and acceptance of sexual orientation.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]