WASHINGTON – Devon Duggins was upset when the Black Student Alliance at Frostburg State University received hate mail a few years ago. But not surprised.
“I wasn’t totally shocked. It just comes with the territory,” said Duggins, a senior at Frostburg and president of the BSA.
Despite the letter, which said blacks cause trouble and should leave the Western Maryland town, Duggins said African-American students are generally accepted at Frostburg. But such racial friction continues to fester on the state’s college campuses as they become more diverse.
The most recent, and most prominent, example came last month when anonymous letters threatened the lives of black faculty and student group leaders at the University of Maryland College Park, one of the most diverse campuses in the state system.
The letters sparked a flurry of anti-hate rallies and discussions on race relations on the College Park campus and prompted campus President Clayton Mote and the Campus Senate to create a panel that examines diversity issues.
“The panel looks at the campus from the top down and sees what blocks healthy interactions between people,” said George Cathcart, university relations director at College Park.
But students said top-down initiatives are only part of the solution.
Diversity programs, while well intentioned, only skim the surface of a truly diverse campus, said Sanjay Singh, a Black Student Union legislator and a junior at College Park.
“They’ll say the school is diverse because different kinds of people go (here), but it is not interactively diverse. I don’t see very much interaction between the races,” said Singh.
He noted that the College Park campus has many programs to make freshmen feel welcome, but it does not help students stay to sophomore year, and said campus officials should work on helping minority students stay in school longer. The Black Student Union “feels that there is a very big turnover rate” among minority students, said Singh.
College counselors need to be better trained on how to give students practical advice, said Singh. This would be especially beneficial to some minority students who need a lot of support to stay in school, said Singh.
“It seems like most people get the best of their advising from other students,” said Singh.
Minority students at rural colleges like Frostburg are small in numbers, but have created their own close-knit student community that helps new minority students.
“If we think something is unfair, we try to speak up,” said Duggins.
The school does a fairly decent job at making minorities feel comfortable, said Duggins, but like College Park, students of different races do not mingle much.
“The school tries to integrate diversity programs, but you can’t make people go where they don’t want to go,” said Duggins.