"I've experienced white culture, I've experienced that side." said senior Tameia Hagan, editor of the UMES campus paper. Hagan, of Upper Marlboro, and other UMES students resolve the conflict between their belief in diversity and their preference for a mostly black college by pointing to their upbringing. After attending largely white high schools, they said they had already enjoyed the benefits of diversity and now wanted a college where African-Americans prevailed.
"Diversity helped me because it helped me work harder.M-v said Kyana Woolridge, a junior from a diverse New Jersey high school. M-tBut there were only 10 of us, and we didnM-Ft have a voice. I was tired of not having a voice."
A few students went further, saying their experiences in majority-white classrooms were unpleasant enough to make them want a predominantly black college. Gordon said racism was rife at her mostly white high school in a Hartford suburb.
Being pulled into the debate over the merits of campus diversity leaves some UMES students feeling wary of both sides of the case. If affirmative-action supporters really believe so much in the merits of diversity, wondered junior Sabrina Richardson, why donM-Ft they demand that historically black colleges become more representative of America as a whole?
"Why do they think [diversity] is so beneficial only to the ma jority?M-F said Richardson, an English major from New Jersey.
At the same time, even as they say they are learning in a relatively homogenous setting, most students interviewed said it was wrong for foes of affirmative action to enlist historically black colleges on their behalf.
The fact is, students said, many historically black schools remain quite homogenous because most white students are not clamoring to attend them. Among other factors, the schools often are not as well-funded or as selective as predominantly white universities.
UMES, for instance, has an average SAT score below 850 for entering freshmen, compared with an average of above 1100 for Salisbury University, the majority-white state college nearby. UMES has had limited success attracting white students with scholarships and programs not available at Salisbury.
It shouldnM-Ft be any surprise that all the talk about diversity is limited to selective majority-white schools, said Kenyatta Rowel, a sophomore from Annapolis. The nationM-Fs best schools get the most attention, he said, and as a result feel under the most pressure to diversify M-y even as schools such as UMES are left mostly to do as they please.
"ItM-Fs like when you have a team thatM-Fs winning a lot and one that doesnM-Ft." he said. "You care a lot more about what happens with the one that wins."