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Some Columbus youth don’t see Ohio State as option

Ohio State fans walk on High Street and Lane Avenue wearing scarlet jerseys and cheer for their football team every gameday. For some Columbus African-American children, sports is all they associate with OSU.
OSU student Adrian Jusdanis, who taught at an after-school program called Freedom School in Columbus, was shocked when he realized the majority of his African-American students had never been on campus. In fact, Jusdanis said some of them didn’t even know there is a campus across from High Street. The Children’s Defense Fund – Ohio Freedom Schools is a program that provides summer and after-school educational opportunities for children in the urban community. During his teaching, Jusdanis recognized these children don’t grow up with the thought of going to college one day like he did.
“Most of the exposure that my students have had through Ohio State is the football and men’s basketball team, and I think them seeing those images is creating the notion that the only way they can escape their condition is through athletics,” said Jusdanis, a second-year in geography.
Although OSU is one of the largest universities in the country, with almost 57,000 students enrolled on the main Columbus campus in Fall 2011, OSU’s website listed the enrollment of African-Americans at 3,274 on the Columbus campus. This is only slightly more than the 3,033 Asian students, and significantly less than the enrollment of Caucasians students.
Compared to Columbus’ population, the U.S. Census Bureau showed that in 2010, Columbus had an estimated 28 percent of African-Americans living in the city, which is seven times more than the 4.1 percent of Asians.
Judson L. Jeffries, professor of African-American and African Studies and Community Extension Center director, said the number of black students on OSU’s campus is poorly represented but wasn’t surprised. He said there has always been a disconnect between the OSU community and Columbus’ African-American residents.
In an email to The Lantern, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman said the critical issue is that young African-Americans are not well prepared for the college or working life after high school.
“Many of our schools must do a better job educating our kids and preparing them for college or the workforce,” Coleman said. “Many of our families need to do a better job intervening in their kids’ lives, especially as it pertains to their schoolwork and preparations for their future. And we as a community – including the private sector, nonprofits and the government – need to determine how we can play a significant role to address this issue that is so important to our young people and so important to our future as a city.”
OSU’s Black Student Association president Sable Wallace said first-generation college students struggle more than others. Wallace said in those families, sometimes a high school degree seems like enough to students who don’t have the guidance to strive for more.
“You see the T-shirts, you see all that stuff from Ohio State and it’s being put in their face, but having them actually step out, and actually elaborate on what that means and how education is the right choice is missing,” Wallace said.
Jeffries said it is important to introduce OSU to children at an early age.
“This should be relatively easy for a land-grant university such as The Ohio State University, which has a mission (that) meshes nicely with that objective,” Jeffries said.
Summit on 16th, a United Methodist Church near campus, has also recognized the barrier, which is one of the reasons why it has participated in the Freedom Schools program, said director of campus ministries Lucy Waechter Webb.
“Our hope is that when the kids work directly with OSU students, where some of them do resemble their background and the same racial ethnic background as the kids have, they will give them some kind of a window and a vision of opportunities they haven’t heard of before,” Waechter Webb said.
Waechter Webb said children who have grown up in poverty have a hard time envisioning a college education and need to be reminded of higher education opportunities.
“They have to be better educated about college opportunities and OSU could play an instrumental role in this process,” Jeffries said. “The university does a really good job recruiting students from faraway places like India, but I wonder if the same level of effort is put forth to engage black students in Columbus’ public schools.”
Ebony Smith, program coordinator of the ambassador program at OSU, said there are opportunities for high schools to reach out to OSU’s campus, but some do not have the money to do so.
“I know a lot of school district’s funding is a huge challenge,” Smith said. “We actually had a few middle and high school groups that called us and wanted to set up a group tour. And then at the last minute, right before they were supposed to come, they call us and say, ‘We are sorry, we actually can’t come down to campus because our funding was cut and we don’t have buses to drive us down.'”
But there are other voluntary organizations, such as Access 88 and Senior-to-Senior that go out to highs schools and educate students about college programs, said Laura Kraus, associate director for Economic Access at OSU.
Kraus said she was stunned when she realized how many children have never been on campus before. It made her realize that her children have a luxury not every child has.
“My kids go to Columbus City Schools, they’ve been on campus a lot, but that’s because their mom works here,” she said.
Before OSU continues to look for diversity from across the ocean, Wallace said the university should look closer at potential students right across the street.
“They need to know that football is not the only thing they offer, and that there is also an education program,” Wallace said.

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