Helping black students feel welcome Frostburg State Univ. committed to diversifying its student body.

November 30, 1997|By Cindy Stacy | Cindy Stacy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FROSTBURG -- Frostburg State University's African-American students will be the first to tell you the place is not perfect: They note that the faculty is lacking in diversity, and tell of being followed in stores at the mall or ignored at a service station.

But by and large, the students say they like the school -- and minority graduates are among Frostburg's best promoters.

For a predominantly white institution located in Western Maryland's Allegany County, where blacks make up only 2 percent of the population, the university has succeeded in maintaining a significant African-American student presence in recent years.

Ten percent of Frostburg's 5,200 undergraduates are minorities, most being African-American. The school also has American Indian, Asian-American and Hispanic students -- the latter having "a growing presence," according to Stephanie Gates, director of the school's student diversity center, which provides support services for students from minority backgrounds.

"As we enter the 21st century," Gates said, "diversity means a lot more. Black people are in a different position today. They're not on the fringes. They're mainstream."

The African-American students who come to Frostburg are mostly from the metropolitan areas of Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia -- not rural Allegany County or neighboring Garrett County, where minorities account for 0.04 percent of the population, according to a county planner.

"If you look at the percentage of minorities in Western Maryland," said Bernard Wynder, director of Frostburg's recruitment services, "we're doing a phenomenal job maintaining a 10 percent minority presence."

Wynder -- an African-American raised in Baltimore -- speaks from experience when he talks about the school, where he earned bachelor of science and master of education degrees.

He said students find the campus in the Allegheny Mountains not only beautiful, but conducive to learning. That is what he liked, and why he decided to take a university job shortly after his 1978 graduation.

The bulk of Wynder's time is spent on the road, recruiting students -- and he makes sure he gets to college fairs of black high schools.

A lot of FSU's success in admitting and retaining blacks has to do with its track record. "We get a number of students who are referred to us by graduates," he said.

In many instances, they are children of alumni like Michael Breedon, Class of 1978, whose son Shawn is majoring in justice studies at FSU. The younger Breedon had been accepted at historically black Morehouse and Bowie State colleges, but his father steered him toward Frostburg.

"It offers a diverse population, isn't far from home and is like a microcosm of American society," said the senior Breedon, assistant director at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore. "The only aspect different now is when I entered college, I came from the inner city and now we live in the suburbs."

Tommy Winston, Class of 1979, a technical consultant for Fannie Mae in Atlanta, tells a similar story. "Coming from the inner city, I believe kids need to go into a different culture," he said of why he encouraged daughter Tanya to choose Frostburg.

"When Tanya was born, her mother and I were teen-age parents," Winston said. "I had a job lined up at the post office, but some people encouraged me to go to college and I went to Frostburg."

His daughter, also majoring in justice studies, will graduate from FSU in December.

Kimberly Harris, who graduated in May with majors in English and mass communications, said she chose Frostburg "out of the blue."

"It was the best decision I could have made," said Harris, a production assistant at Maryland Public Television. "I had many opportunities and was allowed to do a lot of things I could not have done on a larger campus. It's isolated, so you can interact with professors outside of class. I got invited to professors' homes for dinner."

She recalls first driving up to the campus in the Allegheny Mountains from Suitland, a suburb of Washington. "It was a change," she said. "As I got closer to Frostburg, I didn't see many black faces in the cars. But this is what it's like in the real world."

Gates said Frostburg attracts many minority students "who want either FSU or a historically black college."

Repeatedly, parents of African-American students and the students say they consider FSU the better choice.

Gates said one immediate difference noticed with amazement by students from urban areas is the absence of security guards, "and they're not worried about crime."

She views the campus as "a laboratory of life," given the lack of diversity in ther surrounding community near the Allegany-Garrett border.

In the 1970s, Tommy Winston saw the university's cultural mix as an asset to "helping you manage and handle yourself better."

"You come out of FSU with a can-do attitude and you could speak proper English," he said.

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