Minorities now represent the majority of the student body at APU, but are university leaders completely satisfied?
Azusa Pacific University was first established March 3, 1899. A group of men and women, led by President Mary A. Hill, gathered to form the Training School for Christian Workers. Fast forward to the fall of 2015, where the university reached a historic milestone, when minority students became the majority (52 percent) of traditional undergraduate students on campus.
Each year the enrollment of people from various ethnic backgrounds continues to surge.
President Jon Wallace appreciates that APU is becoming a more diverse community, but wants students and faculty to fully embrace the multicultural environment at APU.
“I have to be honest, that percent that indicates that majority of students at APU are people of color is less important than the character of the university, and how we fully include and appreciate diversity,” Wallace said.
Historically, APU has been considered a predominantly Caucasian university. In fact, as of last year, White-Caucasian students made up 41 percent of the traditional undergraduate population.
“So a percent indicates the number of students of color on your campus, but I don’t think it’s a good reflection of, is your campus truly a place where students of color feel welcome,” Wallace said.
President Wallace has had to issue several statements this school year on hate-crimes that have occurred on campus. Several African-American students have been the target of these racially-motivated attacks. Two of the incidents occurred with someone spelling out the “N-word” in dirt on the victim’s vehicles.
The last incident transpired when the “N-word” was written in permanent marker across the victim’s car.
“Tensions of culture and society are present here. I think what’s unique about APU, is that we are committed to addressing that,” Wallace said.
Chris Olson, Executive Director of Institutional Research, puts together the stats that display the demographics of APU. Olson doesn’t just see value in crunching the numbers, but in making sense of it as well.
“It’s not necessarily about the number of students on campus, but what does it mean to be a Student of Color here at APU,” Olson said. “How can the campus environment be conducive to everybody succeeding?”
Nevertheless, each of the last three years’ undergraduate full-time freshman enrollment of minorities has gradually increased at APU. In the fall of 2014, minority freshmen represented 50.8 percent of all first year freshman. In 2015, freshman minorities rose to 52 percent and in 2016 that number increased to 53 percent.
Hispanics make up largest part of minority students at APU, with a total of 1,784 traditional full-time undergraduate students last year. Asian Americans represented nine percent of the undergraduate student body, and students of two or more races made up eight percent.
“Pretty soon the Latino community is going to be the majority in California. So that ought to be reflected in our enrollments,” Wallace said.
The city of Azusa and San Gabriel Valley have long been considered a Latino dominant region. According to Suburban Stats, Hispanic or Latino residents make up approximately 67 percent of the population of Azusa.
The Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD) is an office on campus that promotes cultural awareness and opens an inclusive environment for all students and faculty.
“Where we are in Southern California and where we are in the city of Azusa, it’s a microcosm of the ‘browning’ of the United States,” Executive Director of Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity, Aaron Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa, who grew up in the South El Monte and attended APU, knew that the change to a more diverse campus was inevitable. However, he wonders if universities across the country are ready for that change as well.
“It doesn’t surprise me that we would become that [more diverse]. The part about it for me is, are universities ready for the demographics to shift the way that it already has started to,” Hinojosa said.
There has been debate over why students of color are not more represented in universities across the country. According to an article by the New York Times, black students make up nine percent of the student body at Ivy League schools, three percent of the student body at University of California campuses and seven percent of the student body at top liberal arts colleges.
“You have to consider how people grow up, and their economic status,” Hinojosa said. “Some people don’t have the resources that others have, so there is definitely an inequity.”
African-American students made up 4.8 percent of the student body last year at APU. In fact, over the past five years, enrollment of African-American students at APU has slowly dipped. In the fall of 2011, 328 black students were enrolled at APU. Fast forward to the fall 2016, that number has dropped to 278 students.
“Maybe a lack of representation and celebration on campus is why it has dropped off,” said senior journalism major Kristin Miller. “Maybe the competition of other private and state schools representing the culture better is why too.”
The Black Student Association (BSA) at APU is a club that has provided an outlet for African-American students to connect with other students.
“BSA is trying to work from the inside out. They are trying to get policies in place. I think more than anything they are trying to build a community,” Miller said.
Miller said that BSA is trying to get chapel programs to install a more diverse worship at chapel. She attends One Church in Los Angeles which is a predominately African-American church, and thinks APU students can benefit from a culturally different type of worship.
“I know a lot of black students don’t feel welcomed during chapel, because they can’t worship in a style that is natural to them,” Miller said.
Nonetheless, President Wallace hopes that future students recognize that APU is trying to facilitate a better environment.
“We will become even better at being a preferred destination for students,” Wallace said. “So my message to prospective students, is to come be a part of a university that is moving in the right direction.”