by Chris Farnes, photos by Candy Chiu
A quantitative look at campus demographics
Generalizations abound on the lack of diversity within the student body of Utah State University. One, for example, is that all students are white and belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One generalization that drew me to Utah State was that female students outnumber males 3-to-1.
During my three-plus years here, I began to notice more people from diverse backgrounds. The Interfaith Initiative introduced me to a Peruvian Shaman, a born again Christian and a Muslim. In the Fieldhouse, I played soccer with students from Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Qatar and Armenia. I started to suspect that our campus was more diverse than the generalizations suggested, and I wanted to know more.
To investigate, I asked the diversity experts. I began by visiting the Analysis, Assessment and Accreditation (AAA) office, the University’s demographic statisticians. They collect data on race, ethnicity, gender, place of origin and other factors for USU campuses. On their website, I learned 85 percent of Aggies in 2013 were Caucasian, followed by Hispanic at 6 percent. I compared these percentages to the 2010 U.S. Census and found that the United States is also dominated by the white population at 71 percent, but there are many more Hispanics (16.3 percent) and African Americans (12.6 percent) compared to USU.
I also learned 71 percent of Aggies come from Utah, 24 percent from other states and 5 percent from other countries. Women do outnumber men on campus, but only by about 10 percent and not the 3-to-1 ratio which had me so excited when I enrolled.
My search wasn’t over yet. My next stop was the Registrar’s Office for statistics on religion. The office collected data from 85 percent of students who chose to disclose their religious affiliation last year. Nearly 84 percent of those who disclosed their affiliation identified as Mormon — more than 49 times the percentage of the U.S. population. Cache County has an even more dense Mormon population at 95 percent, although only 62 percent of Utahns are Mormon, according to the U.S Census.
Nine percent of Aggies belong to other Christian denominations, which means almost 93 percent of students are Christian. Judaism, Islam and Hinduism combined were below 1 percent of the student population.
These numbers appear to support the generalizations about Utah State’s diversity. Now that I had the numbers I wanted to see how the university’s diversity experts felt about them, so I went to the Access and Diversity Center. There I spoke to the center’s director, Michelle Bogdan Holt.
“This is the most homogenous place I have ever seen in my life. I went through my own kind of culture shock when I came here,” Holt said. “I would like diversity and inclusivity to be a part of every decision that the university makes, but right now it is just an afterthought.”
I asked her why diversity is important here. “It just is. It’s important because we are a global community. You cannot live in a vacuum your entire life. Why not embrace it, why not broaden your educational experience by getting involved with things and activities and programs that are not like you? You may learn a lot in the classroom but you learn even more outside of it by your experience talking to others.”
Holt hopes Utah State will one day grow in diversity of students and faculty. “I do believe that folks are committed and care about diversity but I don’t think that diversity rises to the top of each conversation,” she said. “We’ll be successful when the subject of diversity and more importantly inclusivity is in every dialogue that we have whether it’s planning an event, bringing a speaker to campus, and the hiring of faculty.”
The last stop in my search for diversity was to question the staff tasked with the recruitment of a diverse student body, the Office of Admissions, to find out what is being done to increase diversity.
“When it comes to ethnic and racial diversity, it’s definitely a challenge, mainly because of our geographic location,” said Corey Mikkelsen, associate director of recruitment. Mikkelsen acknowledged they had a lot of work to do before the University could be considered diverse, but argued the statistics are showing improvement.
“From a geographic standpoint, we are doing better. The incoming freshmen that are from out of state is nearly 35 percent this year, which is almost double that of the other public universities in Utah,” Mikkelsen said. He credited this increase to evolving recruitment practices and expects additional improvements in the future. “We’ve never really had a solid recruitment plan in the past, but now the University wants us to be more aggressive in expanding our recruiting policies,” Mikkelsen said. “We’re really putting in a strong effort in our international and out-of-state recruitment. Specifically, we are holding different events such as Diversity Day to try and attract prospective students from more diverse backgrounds.”
Although university staff make conscious efforts to diversify campus through recruitment, it is unclear what the future holds. We’ll have to check the numbers again in a couple of years to see.