The president of Salisbury State University announced yesterday a series of initiatives designed to increase diversity at what she acknowledges is perceived as a "white school."
"We need to be creating an environment that better prepares our students for what is an increasingly diverse and multiethnic workplace," Janet Dudley-Eshbach said.
Noting that Salisbury State had 36 black students in the freshman class of 856 that started in the fall, Dudley-Eshbach described the school as "the most diversity-challenged - if I may use that term - university in the University System of Maryland."
The initiatives include a $76,000 allocation to the admissions office to increase outreach to high schools and community colleges, involving recruitment and scholarships.
Two positions are being created. One is a minority student achievement specialist, a job filled by current affirmative action officer Leon Burks, who will focus on student retention. The other is a special assistant to the president for diversity initiatives, a post that will be filled through a national search.
Also, a program will be developed to work with Wor-Wic Community College to reach Hispanic students.
"We have a tradition of being a `white' school," Dudley-Eshbach wrote in a letter to the campus community announcing the initiative. "Local community leaders, SSU employees, and past and present students report that SSU has much work to do to become a campus that truly welcomes diverse people and ideas."
Dudley-Eshbach came to Salisbury State last year from Fairmount State College in West Virginia.
"In West Virginia, 3 percent of the entire population is African-American, and at my college, we had about 15 percent minority enrollment," she said. "To come to Maryland, a state that is much more diverse, and to have such a small percentage of our students from these under-represented groups is something I immediately noticed. It was something that needed to be looked at."
Dudley-Eshbach said Salisbury State has a minority enrollment of about 10 percent, but that includes students enrolled in programs through the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, a historically black school in nearby Princess Anne.
Without those students, Salisbury State has a minority enrollment of about 7 percent, she said.
Among her proposals is an increase in joint programs with UMES, although Dudley-Eshbach said she did not want to depend on those shared students to increase diversity on her campus or point to the appeal of UMES to black students as the reason for Salisbury State's lack of diversity.
"Diversity is a challenge for us in part because UMES is 12 miles away," she said. "But our missions are very distinctive and complementary. We will work closely together and strengthen our partnership, but we should not use our proximity as an excuse for a lack of diversity, though it certainly is a factor."
Dudley-Eshbach said Salisbury State has attracted a high-quality student body from all parts of the state and the mid-Atlantic region in recent years.
"Now we want to be successful in attracting some of the best and brightest students from all different backgrounds," she said. "We will be working with community leaders on the western shore, in Baltimore and elsewhere, telling them that the welcome mat is out, please help us. For too many years, that message was not there."