Five years ago, Northwestern’s student enrollment was 1,168. Almost 95 percent of students were white, with the remaining five percent made up of people from various minority groups.
Today only 85.3 percent of the student population is white. This five-year change can be attributed to several factors that continue to work toward a more balanced ethnic environment at NW.
For non-white students, it is often a shock coming to Northwest Iowa. The retention of students of color at NW can be difficult due to inadvertantly exlusive actions of other students.
“Our awareness is growing of the potentially disrespectful things that we have been doing in the past that would keep people from feeling at home here,” said Rahn Franklin, multi-ethnic student counselor.
Several campus groups and programs work to make NW feel like home to students of all backgrounds.
La Mosaic, a multicultural student association, interacts with other cultural groups on campus such as International Club, Hispanics of Northwestern and M’Afrique.
Carly Rozeboom, a multicultural intern, has been part of La Mosaic since her freshman year at NW.
“I started going after I became friends with Chris Butler, one of the founders of La Mosaic,” Rozeboom said. “Since then, I have had my eyes opened to the beauty of different cultures that I believe God has created.”
Rozeboom works with the other multicultural interns, Denise Cowherd, Nayely Becerra-Balbuena and Mariko Komatsu. Together, the interns said they want to raise awareness of both the good and the bad as they discuss the various aspects of diversity on NW’s campus.
“We talk about where it is, how it’s grown and how to further develop it,” Becerra-Balbuena said.
Despite the progress toward making NW a more diverse institution, it seems that there is still work to be done.
“Since my freshman year, I have seen the diversity on our campus increase bit by bit,” Rozeboom said. “However, I have also seen students leave because of the racial and cultural issues.”
In conjunction with the Office of International and Intercultural Services, students share the responsibility of increasing awareness.
“We all have a role in making sure people feel welcome and reminding them that they do belong,” Becerra-Balbuena said.
“We all need this,” Franklin said. “This meaning the development of the knowledge, skills and awareness that it takes to operate appropriately and interact with people who are not like us.”
Another way that NW is hoping to reach out to students of color is through the FUTURES program. FUTURES is for first- and second-year students from various backgrounds, including Latino, African American, Native American, Asian or mixed-racial heritage.
“I think it can be particularly tricky for students of color who identify themselves, and who are identified by others as being people who fit a certain group to figure out ‘Where do I fit in?’” Associate Dean for Intercultural Affairs Kevin McMahan said.
A FUTURES retreat takes place prior to the beginning of the school year. It is a two- to three-day retreat held at Inspiration Hills with a primary focus on team-building. Students in the program are connected with a host family and a mentor.
The program’s purpose is to help prepare students to succeed in their academics and in their social development at NW.
Another aspect of NW’s efforts to increase cultural awareness is through the Multi-Ethnic Resource Committee. The committee is made up of 10 faculty members, staff members and students who promote the strengthening of intercultural interaction through education, student programs and diversity training.
These programs all work together to support NW’s mission and identity. The Office for International and Intercultural Development works to integrate the mission of NW into their own vision of forming an environment that reflects God’s creation as multicultural by seeking “justice and shalom in all relationships; to know and love the world as God does.”
“We don’t want to stigmatize any group,” McMahan said. “We want to work on inclusion. I think sometimes our typical majority culture image of what inclusion means is to not pay any attention to those differences.”
By recognizing the differences between cultures in this area, Franklin said we can learn from others’ life experiences. NW provides many ways for students to connect with one another.
One way to connect with students of various cultures is through the Ethnic Fair. The Ethnic Fair began over fifteen years ago as a banquet for international students and their host families.
Now, it has become an event for the entire community with food, a fashion show, dancing, singing, poetry and speech that reflect the various cultures of students on campus.
Becerra-Balbuena will be performing spoken word, poetry that is performed for an audience.
This year’s ethnic fair will take place at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 29 in the Rowenhorst Student Center gymnasium.
Tickets are $12 for community members, $6 for children (8 and younger) and $1 for NW students with their student ID.
In support of the Ethnic Fair, the cafeteria will be closed for the night.