By Elisia Alonso
I was not surprised in the least bit when I first learned Western Michigan University’s campus was rated overwhelmingly high in rates of satisfaction with diversity and inclusion in the Campus Climate Study. Through my research with my reporting team on the areas of improvement and what action is being taken by the university for bettering diversity and inclusion at WMU, I gathered telling information on why the majority of the 20 percent sample was satisfied with our cultural environment.
Director of the Lewis Walker Institute, Dr. Timothy Ready, said in an interview that offering school of choice within communities promotes diversity and inclusion. Kalamazoo Public Schools does offer school of choice, so students can select the school that best fits their needs. Ready noted that in a community such as Kalamazoo, which has neighborhoods with distinct socio-economic and racial/ethnic compositions (e.g. the north side is mostly low-income and African American, the west part of town is college student territory, the southeast side tends toward upper-middle and white), all students within the community need the access to a variety of public schooling opportunities. Ready thinks that schools of choice should cross school district boundaries so students within Kalamazoo County can intermingle and integrate.
Within higher income communities comes better funding for their school district. In areas surrounding Kalamazoo, such as Portage, these higher income communities are mainly white ones. When these students are taught with newer books, better technology and developing teaching strategies they are set up for a higher success than of a student in the same grade at the public school 10 miles down the road.
When school districts stay segregated, the community is promoting the elevated education of a small percentage of the whole.
In 2012, the Kids Count survey found that just under 50 percent of students in Kalamazoo County are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Ready argues that tying low-income households with inadequately-funded public education is a major factor that discourages students from furthering their education after high school graduation.
This circles me back to my original question: Why do most students, staff, and faculty agree that WMU is diverse and inclusive?
The Kalamazoo Promise.
Before the lengthy process and legalities of instating school of choice opportunities within Kalamazoo County school districts, the Kalamazoo Promise was already changing the lives of its youth.
In 2006, research found 44 percent of college students using the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship were some time in their lives classified as economically disadvantaged. That number has increased to 62 percent since last recorded in 2012. This means a lot of KPS students who would not have furthered their education due to a lack of finances are taking the opportunity given to better their education and future.
Fortunately for WMU many KPS graduates found that the campus met their individual needs and progressively enriched our cultural climate as scholarship recipients continued to commit to a Bronco education.
As I sit on a bench near Miller Plaza’s fountain, I scan the scene around me: There is a sea of students coming and going, waves of people from different backgrounds and cultures with stories waiting to be heard, if only someone asked.