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Many Black students don’t feel supported on Ohio campuses, according to new report

A group of graduates stand with caps and gowns facing toward family members on a lawn.
Charles Deloye
/
Unsplash
Black students across Ohio reported feeling a lack of belonging at majority-white colleges.

A Supreme Court ruling in June struck down the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. In Ohio, most Black students at majority-white schools don't believe those institutions value them. That's according to a new report from the Ohio Student Association.

The organization recently surveyed more than 300 Black students across the state to find out how to better support the student population. The majority of the students surveyed at primarily white institutions were unsure or disagreed with the idea that their universities valued its Black students.

Black students at Ohio’s two historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) reported better experiences overall – around three-fourths of students at those schools reported feeling like they belonged.

Brielle Shorter, Ohio State University sophomore and member of the Ohio Student Association, said she believes many Black students, like herself, feel left behind at schools with a majority-white student population

“When a student chooses to go to one of these institutions, the expectation is that you are okay with being othered,” Shorter said.

Unmet needs

Black students are already underrepresented in four-year degree programs. Shorter said that makes improving their experiences at Ohio’s schools even more important.

Only 19% of Black Ohioans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 31% of white Ohioans, according to the Census Bureau. Shorter said more Ohio colleges need to understand the unique barriers that Black students face and build resources with them in mind.

“A lot of black students are [first-generation] – a lot of immigrants, a lot of people that have never had family members that have been to college,” she said. “They don't know much about financial aid and don't know where to find the resources.”

A line graph shows that 45.7% of Americans (All Races) have an associate's degree or higher, compared to 42.6% of Ohioans (All Races.) 34.2% of Black Americans have an associate's degree of higher, compared to 28.3% of Black Ohioans.
Ohio Student Association
Ohio lags behind national educational attainment averages. The disparity is even wider for Black Ohioans.

Shorter said more programs should focus on teaching Black students about financial aid, what to expect in post-graduate life and how their student loans might impact them.

Ohio State University offers many behavioral health resources tailored toward Black students including counseling and discussion groups devoted to talking about the link between racism and mental health.

Shorter, a psychology major with the hopes of becoming a therapist, said universities need to create more culturally competent mental health resources like this that address the trauma of racism for its Black students.

Police presence on campus

OSA’s report also surveyed how safe Black students felt with law enforcement on campus. The results were split: around a third reported feeling safe, a third reported feeling unsafe and another third said they were unsure.

Nearly a fifth of Black students reported having a negative experience with campus police. Shorter said she feels local law enforcement sometimes holds white and Black students to different standards.

Shorter said Ohio State needs to address a fraught history between the Columbus Police Department and the Black student population. Last year, some OSU students called to cut ties with CPD after a Columbus police officer shot and killed Donovan Lewis.

A black and white photo of students talking and reading sits under a banner that reads "Ohio Black Student Equity Report".
Ohio Student Association
46% of Black students at majority white institutions said that their racial identity led to added stress.

CPD isn’t the primary law enforcement agency on OSU’s campus, according to the university’s website.

“In Columbus, we hire individual Columbus Division of Police (CPD) officers for specific services, largely traffic control on city streets for athletics events,” a university spokesperson said.

In order to build trust with Black students, the report recommends Ohio universities and colleges build better systems of accountability for on-campus police.

Next steps

“When a student chooses to go to one of these institutions, the expectation is that you are okay with being othered."
Brielle Shorter, OSU student and Ohio Student Association member

The report also recommends building a statewide task force of Ohio higher education institutions and community organizations to talk about the Black experience and build equity on campuses.

Shorter said Ohio universities need to band together to eliminate barriers for Black students.

“It is going to basically help hold universities accountable, which is important,” Shorter said. “A lot of promises were made especially in the events of 2020. But, sometimes, those promises are hard to keep up.”

Ben Johnson, a spokesperson for Ohio State University, said the university works hard “to foster an educational community where students from all backgrounds feel welcome and receive the support they need to be successful.” Ohio University did not respond to a request for comment.

The Ohio Student Association also recommends giving Black Ohioans more student loan forgiveness opportunities, in order to counter racial wealth disparities across the state. In the U.S., Black students owe an average of $25,000 more in student loans than their white counterparts, according to the Education Data Initiative.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.