Maheen Shafi decided to come to Temple University to be among a more diverse crowd. But after two years at the university, the senior neuroscience major found herself disappointed.
“I realized that by the end of my sophomore year, I was still surrounded in this largely white space because so much of Temple University is large white spaces,” Shafi said. “And so for me to break out of that, I had to specifically seek out pockets of non-white spaces.”
Temple is a predominantly white institution, meaning white students make up 50 percent or more of the student body, according to the Encyclopedia of African American Education. Fifty-five percent of Temple undergraduates for the 2019-20 school year are non-Hispanic white, according to university research on 2019-2020 enrollment.
On Aug. 19, Temple announced that 40 percent of this year’s freshman class are students of color. Yet Lindsey Farrell, a senior political science major, is skeptical that this announcement is nothing more than marketing.
“Yeah, you can have a bunch of people of color in your freshman class, but does that mean that they’re actually going to have any influence or power in any decisions that happen in their classes?” Farrell said. “No, professors are still going to be able to do whatever they want with them. They’re still going to be able to make them feel ostracised, subject them to racism and microaggressions and things like that.”
For the past four years, the university reported a 55 percent white undergraduate enrollment rate, which is a small decrease from the 2014-2015 school year, when Temple reported a 57 percent rate, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.
Kimberly Goyette, chair of the sociology department, feels that Temple has not always been seen as PWI, but the changing perception might be negatively affecting non-white students.
“I think this is a shift in how Temple is perceived, which certainly affects the student body, as an institution which has had a perception of being one of the more diverse institutions, it does shift that and perhaps in ways that feel less comfortable for students of color,” Goyette said.
Valerie Harrison, the senior advisor to President Richard Englert for equity, diversity and inclusion, believes a PWI can still provide a culturally relevant and affirming experience for students of color.
Temple is surrounded by Black history: the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street near 18th housed the Black Panther National convention in 1970, and the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Philadelphia division is currently located on Cecil. B. Moore Avenue, Harrison said.
“There’s all of this rich history and culture that is right here, so going to a predominantly white institution, but one like Temple, can still offer you a culturally relevant experience,” she added.
Farrell feels it is not enough for the university to have racial equity committees or commit to having a diverse faculty and staff.
“Of course there’s the argument of representation and there are some people of color on the Board of Trustees and some people of color in power at Temple, but that doesn’t mean that they’re actually conscious of the power that they hold and it doesn’t mean that they’re actually trying to make a change for students,” Farrell said.