Diversity examined at Lawrence

Julia Callander

Diversity. In the world of higher education, this word is tossed around a lot. What does it mean, in terms of numbers and in terms of the things that are more difficult to measure?Steve Syverson, dean of admissions at Lawrence, said that diversity makes Lawrence “a more interesting place… more real.”

International students also complement Lawrence’s off-campus study programs, Syverson said.

“[We’ve had] challenges in Appleton. [It’s] predominately Caucasian… Appleton actually had a bad reputation.” Even in the late ’50s, Syverson said, there was an African-American performer who had to be put up in a different city because he couldn’t get a hotel room in Appleton.

Syverson, who has been at Lawrence for 20 years, said that the demographics of Appleton have changed considerably. He mentioned the Mexican and Asian groceries and restaurants, and specifically pointed out the Hmong community in Appleton. However, he said, Appleton is “still a pretty white community,” and for international students and students of color most of the diversity to be found while at Lawrence is only on campus.

Recently, the Lawrence admissions office has tried to broaden its focus. Syverson mentioned that they are now focusing more on South America. Lawrence has traditionally gotten more students from Africa and the Indian subcontinent, Syverson said. Other countries from which many students come are members of the former Soviet Union.

One reason for focusing on South America, Syverson said, is the strength of the Spanish program at Lawrence. More Spanish-speakers on campus would “enrich [the learning] environment,” Syverson said. He also mentioned a new program that the State Department has initiated to bring more students to the U.S. from the Middle East and North Africa.

Some students come to Lawrence as “visiting” and not “degree-seeking” students. Most notable in that respect is the program with Waseda in Japan. The program is in its second year of a three-year contract that Syverson believes will be renewed. Others come for one term from the Kurgan Institute in Russia, or from Costa Rica as language aides.

Syverson mentioned that he hopes Lawrence will soon have international and minority students “fully represented” throughout the Lawrence community. He said that there is currently a “disproportionate interest in economics and computer science.” Other concentrations are in particular sports or instrument studios.

Why do international students come to Lawrence? “Money” seems to be the almost universal answer. Akshai Sarin, a senior economics and philosophy major from Cairo, Egypt, and of Indian descent, said that he applied to 15 to 20 schools in the U.S. and chose Lawrence based on the financial aid he was offered and the school’s size and academic reputation. He also jokingly said that the cheese and beer brought him to Wisconsin.

Melisha Taylor, a senior government major and anthropology minor from Jamaica, reiterated Sarin’s comments: financial aid and small size.

Many Lawrentians claim to observe some separation between the international and American students. Taylor agreed that the international students feel “a common bond” of being somewhat “outsiders.” She also said, though, that she feels this segregation has decreased since her freshman year.

Syverson said that he wonders if Lawrence doesn’t sometimes aggravate this segregation by having the international students arrive a few days earlier than the other freshmen. He says it is easy for any student to remain with the first friends he or she meets at school and that it is every student’s responsibility to push the limits of that social comfort zone.

Some basic statistics:

9% in this year’s incoming freshman class are international students and another 8% are domestic students of color.

Last year, 11% of the freshman class were international students and another 11% domestic students of color.

In 1988, the incoming class had one percent international students and five percent domestic students of color. Since then, Lawrence has been making a dedicated effort to have a diverse campus. That year the target of eight to 10 percent international students was created, and Lawrence has now achieved that target.

Nine percent of this year’s incoming freshmen are international students and another eight percent are domestic students of color. Last year’s class was 11 percent international and another 11 percent domestic students of color.

Syverson isn’t sure if Lawrence wants to drastically increase the number of international students past 10 percent. He strongly stated, however, that Lawrence needs a student body with more domestic students of color.

“We haven’t figured it out,” he said, adding that it was not from lack of trying or lack of interest. “[Things are] much better now than a decade and a half ago,” he said.

Syverson mentioned several programs that Lawrence has tried in hopes of increasing minority applications to Lawrence, including a high school enrichment program for minorities, a biology project with teachers from the Oneida and Menominee Indian communities, and an internship program called Leap 2000 that paired minority students and local businesses like Kimberly Clark and Bank One.

While all of these programs were positive, none were dramatically effective. Syverson said that they haven’t yet found “the silver bullet” that would instantly increase minority enrollment.

Syverson mentioned two major stumbling blocks for Lawrence in the area of domestic diversity: Lawrence is small, and it is in Appleton. He suggested that it is more difficult for Lawrence to attract some students of color than it is for Madison or Oshkosh.

Syverson mentioned that a more diverse Lawrence faculty would probably make Lawrence more attractive to domestic students of color. That may be more difficult than recruiting students of color, Syverson said, because it requires “more [than] a commitment [of] four years.”

Domestic students of color are eligible for Heritage Scholarships from Lawrence. These scholarships may be given separately or in addition to merit- and need-based aid and range from $5,000 to full tuition (but not room and board).

Syverson said, “Non-need-based aid is a bad thing for higher education,” but added that it is perhaps necessary for Lawrence until it builds what Syverson called the “critical mass” of minority students.

International students often receive what Lawrence calls the Lawrence International Student Scholarship, which is a figured combination of need-based and non-need-based aid.

The conservatory is less diverse than the university as a whole. Rosie Cannizzo, director of conservatory admissions, said, “While we’re committed to diversity, [conservatory admission] is driven by instrument. [We’re] looking for specific numbers for [instrumentation].”

Also, Cannizzo said it is difficult for international students to apply to the conservatory because of the audition process. International students often cannot come to campus to meet the faculty.

They are “less willing to make that kind of leap,” said Cannizzo. She added that international students have to audition by tape, which makes it harder for them.

Cannizzo noted that the conservatory has several violinists who came to Lawrence from France specifically to study with Stphane Tran Ngoc. She also said that there were some international students who were piano majors.

Syverson mentioned another difficulty admissions had experienced. Every year, the Lawrence conservatory accepts several musicians from China. These students are often unable to acquire visas to come to the U.S. In fact, Syverson thinks it has been four years since a Chinese student has matriculated at Lawrence. He said that Lawrence had even involved Wisconsin s
enators in appealing for visas for these students, with little success.

Concerning domestic students of color in the conservatory, Cannizzo said, “Traditionally, classical music in general has attracted fewer minority students than other areas. I think that’s changing, like a lot of other things.