Amanda Morgan, 16, a senior at Western High School in Baltimore, spent part of October at the University of Maryland College Park.
After two days of classes and two nights of hanging out in a dorm with mostly white students, Amanda, who is black, didn’t see the racist things her friends in the city had warned her about.
“Everyone got along on the floor,” she said. “I felt accepted.”
College Park President William Kirwan has been working to make the campus more friendly to African Americans and other minorities. Words like Amanda’s are music to his ears.
When Kirwan became a professor in 1964, College Park’s atmosphere wasn’t so comfortable. He remembers a restaurant refusing to serve some of his black students.
Today, the university’s undergraduate black enrollment is 13 percent, up from 3 percent in 1975. The school has begun aggressive minority retention programs and fought to keep the black-only Banneker scholarship, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional last summer.
“To those watching us, we have sent a strong message,” Kirwan told faculty in October. Despite the court’s decision, “we will move forward to achieve our ambitious diversity goals.”
The university has been featured in Black Issues in Higher Education magazine and listed in the book, “The 100 Best Colleges for African-Americans.” Campus officials hope the improved image will help them in areas like Baltimore, where it has been traditionally hard for them to recruit.
Baltimore NAACP President Rodney Orange is among the converts.
“I have not been in communication with anyone who is currently a student that has had any problem,” Orange said recently. “I can say I was impressed by the stand the university took when the Banneker program was in question.”
Rodger Davis, guidance director at Montgomery County’s Wheaton High School, said he has not heard a negative comment about race relations at College Park in years.
“I can’t remember the number of times we’ve taken minority students to College Park,” he added, chuckling. “Maryland is making a big attempt to change.”
Nor does Niki Fortunato, college counselor at three Baltimore city schools, hear negatives.
When Fortunato graduated from College Park in 1954, “everybody [was] like me.” She said future students — like Amanda Morgan — will be on one of the most diverse campuses she has seen. Said Corey Davis, an African-American senior at the university: “For the most part, people accept diversity at the University of Maryland.” -30-