How many black men do you think you’ve seen today on Ohio State’s campus? Two? Three? Four?
Keith Bell, a graduate administrative associate at the university, estimated he sees on average two or three each day; but for some students, staff and faculty on campus, it’s possible they don’t see any.
“I started noticing because I started counting,” Bell said. “There were days I saw none, one, three, you know.”
The reason why it is rare to see an African-American man on Ohio State’s campus is because, when it comes to enrollment numbers, they’re virtually invisible.
Ohio State prides itself as a diverse and inclusive institution. This year, the university welcomed its most diverse freshman class in university history, comprising of a record-high 1,542 first-year minority students.
Despite this, the enrollment of African-American men remains low.
African-American men make up less than 3 percent of the undergraduate student population, and less than 2 percent of first-year students on the Columbus campus.
A Lantern analysis of Ohio State’s Columbus campus enrollment data from 2013-2017 shows the university has enrolled fewer than 130 African-American men in each freshman class. Out of the 7,136 first-year students enrolled in 2017, 129 were black men.
For comparison, African-American women comprise 3.2 percent of the student body, which is 263 more students than African-American men.
So, at a public, land-grant university that prides itself on diversity, why is enrollment of African-American men so low?
The inability to enroll more African-American men stems in part from a specific question regarding academic discipline on the common application that poses as a barrier and makes it difficult for African-American men to be given a fair opportunity to attend the university, according to experts.
Additionally, Ohio State is selective in admissions. The objective to admit only the top students can keep the university from considering a more diverse pool.
All of these factors lead to another problem that influences the perception of black men: a tacit stereotype that African-American men only attend college to play sports.
Paris McGee plays a sport at Ohio State, but views himself not as an athlete first, but as a student. A fourth-year in journalism who also is on the gymnastics team, McGee said sometimes he’s often the only African-American man in his classes.
“Being the only black person in the classroom or being the only person of color, you feel very much a minority, and I think it’s unfortunate,” McGee said.
While Bell said he didn’t think there was anything intentional “about not admitting black males,” the numbers present a troubling counterpoint to Ohio State’s push to increase diversity.
According to undergraduate student enrollment data, the number of first-year African-American men has increased each year since Autumn 2014, but so has the overall undergraduate enrollment at the Columbus campus. This has kept the percentage of African-American men in the first-year student body stagnant for the past four years.
James Moore, Ohio State’s interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion, said this trend is nothing new at the university and across the country.
“African-American males are usually the most underrepresented groups throughout the education pipeline,” Moore said. “This dilemma has been long-standing for black males, more so than other groups.”
The university has been pushing to increase minority enrollment, including the number of African-American students.
“In 2017, new first-year student minority representation increased to a record high 1,542 students — 21.6 percent of the class,” said Ben Johnson, a university spokesman. “Ohio State also set record highs in enrollment of total minority students at all campuses and all levels to 13,065, up 6.1 percent, and hit record highs in enrollment [categories] of African-American, Hispanic and Asian students and students who identify with two or more races.”
However, the data shows Ohio State is continuing to struggle in admitting African-American men. This 2017-18 academic year, there are 1,200 African-American men at the university.
In the past four years combined, Ohio State’s Columbus campus admitted 455 African-American men as first-year students.
A large number of African-American men transfer from regional campuses or other schools, which is why the enrollment of African-American men is greater in comparison to first-year enrollment data, Johnson said.
A simple question
Ohio State uses the Common Application. This format has been adopted by more than 600 universities as the primary way to apply to college in an effort to obtain a larger applicant pool.
Bell said the common application was supposed to help increase minority representation, but has hindered African-American men from successfully applying.
“Ohio State moved to the Common App with the understanding that if you get more students [to apply], obviously the thought is that you would get more minority students,” Bell said. “The number of overall applications for the university has increased, but the yield and percentage of minority students has stayed the same and decreased over the same period of time.”
Bell said one specific question on the Common Application can play a factor in limiting African-American men from being enrolled in the university.
You can’t tell me that out of [roughly] 10,000 black males in Columbus City Schools, there are not 500, 400 or 300 that would be eligible and be able to [succeed] at Ohio State University. — Keith Bell, graduate administrative associate at Ohio State
It asks, “Have you ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any education institution you have attended from the ninth grade (or the international equivalent) forward, whether related to academic misconduct or behavioral misconduct that resulted in a disciplinary action? These actions could include but are not limited to probation, suspension, removal, dismissal, or expulsion.”
A former superintendent at Euclid City Schools in Euclid, Ohio, Bell said this question poses a barrier for school districts in areas comprised mostly of minority students that have a strict disciplinary policy.
“As a ninth-grader, you come in and you’re a knucklehead. You make mistakes. You do things that you normally wouldn’t do when you’re a senior,” Bell said. “So you come in and make a mistake as a freshman, [then years later when applying to college], you have to check the box.”
School districts vary in the actions they take in dealing with academic and behavioral misconduct, but the aggregate result is unfair to African-American men, Moore said.
Districts comprised of primarily white students of higher socioeconomic status do not take such serious measures, Bell said, adding the leniency can give students a better opportunity of getting into college, despite having past disciplinary trouble, because they do not have to answer yes to the aforesaid question on the application.
“[Say for example] I’m applying to Ohio State. As a ninth-grader I got into a fight, I got a charge,” Bell said. “Same ninth-grader got into a fight in Upper Arlington, it’s not a charge at all, he didn’t have to check the box.”
Johnson said applicants who answer yes to the disciplinary question are sent a form in which they are asked to provide additional information and include any rehabilitation and what they learned from the experience.
Applicants who are not considered for admittance — the step when an application is reviewed for acceptance — will not have the question evaluated. Those who are considered for admittance into the university will have the disciplinary information reviewed prior to a final decision for admission, Johnson said.
“In this society it’s sort of like there’s no redemptive process. It’s sort of like the badge of shame sticks with you,” Moore said. “I recognize why others may say that there’s no place for that, but also I recognize theoretically this institution, we have to follow the federal and state laws and discrimination is not something we do.”
Ohio State’s high standards and selective admissions make it one of the top public universities in the nation.
In the 2018 U.S. News and World Report’s college and university rankings, Ohio State ranked No. 16 for top public schools and No. 54 overall nationally.
Grade point averages, ACT and SAT scores of incoming freshmen at Ohio State continue to increase each year. Because of the rising standards, there’s pressure to maintain a high academic standard due to the amount of money invested in the university and the large number of donors and contributors, Bell said.
“There’s people who say if you allow students who have [lower GPAs or test scores] … then you dilute the experience for everybody else, so we’re not going to have them,” Bell said.
In an interview with The Lantern, University President Michael Drake said Ohio State welcomes students of all backgrounds.
“The more people from [the African-American] background and the more people from Latino backgrounds or people from other backgrounds who are underrepresented, the more students we can have from low-income backgrounds, the better to help all know that this is a place that we want people to come and to succeed,” Drake said.
Not all school districts are equal in terms of funding per student, which can have an outsized impact on a students’ educational outcome.
“There’s some fundamental things that are inhibiting African-American males from being successful,” Moore said. “Oftentimes, they’re not afforded the same kind of opportunities where they can develop the scholastic skills that are indicative of success.”
This systemic issue can have an even greater impact on groups that are oftentimes marginalized, which is seen in the enrollment numbers.
“All I would say, it’s a reflection of the many inhibitors that prevent black males from successfully and seamlessly moving through the education pipeline,” Moore said.
As a global institution that has built offices throughout the world, Cesar Seguil, former director of academic services in the College of Education and Human Ecology, believes the university should make a greater effort to reach out to its own community.
“We’re not putting as much effort into infiltrating communities here, particularly communities of color and with that outreach,” said Seguil, who now serves as the program administrator of academic affairs in the College of Pharmacy.
The university has implemented several outreach programs during Drake’s tenure as president.
“We’ve done things, like doubled the Young Scholars Program, that we go into communities, that we’ve added tens of millions of dollars to our need-based aid,” Drake said. “The reason that we do those things — we’ve changed policies to do those things — is to create more opportunity and access for those parts of our population, who we’re not seeing in the numbers that we would like to.”
University administration recognizes the low enrollment numbers for African-American men and is looking for new ways to increase their opportunities for enrollment.
“We acknowledge that minority enrollment remains a significant challenge, and we conduct a race-conscious holistic review of applicants because we believe it is needed,” Johnson said. “Even with the holistic review, like other selective universities, Ohio State has struggled to enroll a critical mass of underrepresented minority students. Ohio State is thinking broadly about ways to enhance diversity outcomes from its admissions process.”
Moore said efforts such as mentorship and social persuasion in these communities aren’t enough to combat the issue.
“They focus on the things that increases efficacy the least,” Moore said. “What increases efficacy the most is achieving. A person who has been successful tends to have a higher level of efficacy and motivation.”
Out of the 51,183 students in the Columbus City School District, 28,744 of those students are African-American, according to the 2014 Public School Review .
Bell said it is hard to grasp why more African-American men, specifically those who live in Columbus, do not enroll at the university.
“You can’t tell me that out of [roughly] 10,000 black males in Columbus City Schools, there are not 500, 400 or 300 that would be eligible and be able to [succeed] at Ohio State University,” Bell said.
Moore said the general public needs to remember why higher education was created in the first place.
“It was created to educate,” he said. “Not to say you have to be at [a certain] level, it is to educate.”
I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it’s always work. If you could just take your hands off and it would coast, then we wouldn’t have these things happening. – University President Michael Drake
The assumption that black men seen at a renowned university must be on a sports team has been an ongoing stereotype. In 2016, 9.2 percent of Ohio State’s African-American male population were student-athletes.
“Black males are oftentimes seen as a part of a group rather than the individual,” Moore said. “Whatever another group thinks of the group, is how people engage that group.”
Although Ohio State receives significant recognition for its NCAA Division I athletic programs, athletes are also students at the university.
“We’re students first, athletes second,” McGee said. “And I let people know all the time, my knowledge, who I am as a person, is so much bigger than anything I could ever do [athletically].”
He said the university only recognizes African-American men through their athletic achievements.
“The black names that you do hear that are big are athletes, but they are spotlighted in an athletic way for their athletic performance,” said McGee, the journalism student and gymnast. “You don’t hear about J.T. Barrett and the great academic achievements, if he’s made any. You don’t hear about any of the black basketball players and their academic achievements, but you always hear about the athletic side.”
The majority of the Ohio State football and basketball teams are African-American. In 2016 the football team had 70 African-American men (53 percent), and the basketball team had 10 (76.9 percent). Sports such as gymnastics, ice hockey, volleyball and tennis each had one.
For many African-American men at the university, this is an issue they have experienced throughout their scholastic journey.
“Many of the young men who do come here, unfortunately their educational journeys were lonely and they were by themselves,” Moore said. “In many ways there are challenges in our society, unfortunately that young [black] men have to endure what other groups don’t have to endure.”
The lack of representation for African-American men at Ohio State underscores the lack of opportunity African-American men are given.
McGee said African-American men shouldn’t be given opportunities solely because of their athletic ability.
“Being the only black person in the class, I feel that I’m the one who may have an opportunity that many people could [have], but they don’t have that opportunity because it’s not given to them,” he said.
He added that the idea that African-American men are only successful in athletics diminishes the hard work that many students put in to excel at the university.
“It’s a rough stereotype but it makes me feel that people are telling us we can only be but so much. It’s like people expect us to be athletes in order to attend this great university,” McGee said. “They don’t expect us to have the knowledge or education ourselves, that we need something else in order to be great.”
Very few athletes play professional sports after college. Last year, seven African-American men from Ohio State went to play in the NFL. The basketball team had no one enter the NBA.
“In terms of being an athlete, I know that five, 10 years down the road, the successful job that I get, I’m going to get because of my education, not because I was some athlete,” McGee said.
Seguil said there are many resources at Ohio State to further diversity and inclusion, but it is not reflected in the campus’ racial makeup.
“There seems to be a lot of units across the university that are charged with this very important work,” Seguil said. “But you don’t really see its reflection whether it’s the population of students or the population of staff or the population of faculty.”
Ohio State is trying to attract and support minority students through various initiatives, Johnson said, including the American Talent Initiative.
ATI comprises more than 80 schools and was set in place in December 2016 to enroll 50,000 low and moderate-income students at top colleges and universities in 10 years.
Additionally, Ohio State offers Buckeye Student Leadership Academy, a trip provided to high-school seniors to experience college by spending three days at the university participating in activities and interacting with students, staff and faculty. This opportunity is given to first-generation, rural, and/or underrepresented minority students.
Ohio State also is home to nearly 200 student organizations that identify as ethnic or cultural based, including the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African-American Male (BNRC). A student-based extension of the BNRC, Band of Brothers, is founded on the principles of scholarship, service, professional development and brotherhood, and is an organization comprising of primarily African-American men.
The BNRC is not involved in the recruitment of African-American men to the university, but has made efforts in helping these students succeed at the university once they enroll.
Moore, who serves as the executive director of BNRC, said there are nearly 500 full-time African-American male students involved, with a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher.
“Are we where we want to be? No, but when you look at where we started and where we are now, I would argue it’s very few institutions of higher learning at this level have made the kind of progress [BNRC] have,” Moore said.
The BNRC works to make systematic changes to foster academic success in young black men that extends beyond the university.
“Some of it is that we had to help young men and change the way they think about themselves and their approach to scholastic achievement,” Moore said. “What we try to do is create a healthy space for the ethos of excellence and not let an A, B, or whatever dictate your ceiling.”
Even with all the university’s efforts to increase the number of minority students on campus, the enrollment of African-American men has remained a significant problem.
“I don’t think people realize how disproportionately low these numbers are,” Bell said.
As the third-largest university in the nation, Ohio State has the ability to be the center of opportunity to a large amount of people.
“Why can’t you be [a top research] university, the catalyst to be a pipeline to be able to help solve societal issues?” Bell said. “I couldn’t find black male teachers to save my life as a superintendent because they weren’t available. Here’s a university that could make them available and be able to give them an opportunity.”
Ohio State is considered a PWI — predominantly white institution. People who are a part of the majority population can be blind to the lack of minority students.
“You have to show them the data to show them something needs to be done and something needs to change,” Seguil said.
It’s like people expect us to be athletes in order to attend this great university. They don’t expect us to have the knowledge or education ourselves, that we need something else in order to be great. – Paris McGee, a fourth-year athlete
As a member of the university staff advisory committee, Seguil relays staff issues and possible solutions to university officials. This is one way in which concern about minority representation is brought to the university’s attention.
“What you think is happening and what is actually happening are two different things,” Bell said. “There has to be a way to be able to bring [this to the attention of] the people who are making decisions about what’s really happening in secondary schools and the barriers so people can actually address it.”
Moore said the issue is not a lack of push, but more of a lack of joint forces working together to make change.
“I think sometimes it is not a void of effort,” he said. “I think the challenge is how do we work more collaboratively.”
This issue is not only prevalent at Ohio State, but also other universities across the nation.
The enrollment of African-American men has been an ongoing issue. There are many efforts set in place by the university, but none has had a big enough impact to bring about significant change to this concern.
While the numbers are low, university leaders said Ohio State is looking to the future, continuing its work in attracting and retaining African-American men.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it’s always work. If you could just take your hands off and it would coast, then we wouldn’t have these things happening,” Drake said. “But it’s something that’s always a national problem and we see it from a variety of complicated points of view and it takes active, consistent effort all the time to move forward.”
Editor’s note: Paris McGee previously wrote for The Lantern as part of his journalism curriculum. This article has been updated to reflect 1,542 minority freshmen were admitted in Autumn. It previously stated 1,452 were.