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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

UMD reports low diversity rates; students of color reflect on their time in predominantly white spaces

Written by: Milvian Gonzalez 🇬🇹 🇧🇿

Testudo statue in front of McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland on April 24, 2024 (Yessica Mayo)

While discussing social issues in predominantly white spaces like the College of Behavior and Social Sciences and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, 60% of students of color interviewed said they feel alienated.

Ten out of the 12 undergraduate colleges’ student bodies at UMD are predominantly white, a report said. As of the fall 2023 semester, 48.5% of the BSOS student population identify as white, 14.1% identify as Hispanic/Latinx, 13.5% identify as Black, 12.2% as Asian, 5.5% identify as multiracial and 0.1% identify as Native American, the report said.

The transition to the UMD environment was a culture shock, said Jaela Paranilam, a junior sociology major. Paranilam was raised in Baltimore City, where white students were the minority.

“When it comes to social issues … there are oftentimes more than one instance where people are tone-deaf to things, which can be … jarring, because in my mind it's like ‘oh, we’re in the same classes. We're having the same education in a sense,’” Paranilam said.

Paranilam added that while she receives the same education as her white classmates, they will never experience what it’s like to be a person of color.

“Having experiences as being a white person versus having experiences as being a brown person are very different,” Paranilam said. “Realistically, our education, our knowledge base is not the same.”

Students of color receiving their bachelors of arts or science in government and politics also face that feeling of isolation while discussing social issues.

Senior government and politics major Alejandro Diaz-Lopez was raised in Washington, D.C. and said that politics has always surrounded him. While he attended relatively diverse schools, most of the classmates in his AP and honors classes were white, he said.

Like Paranilam, Diaz-Lopez said the feeling of being estranged from his white peers has come up when speaking on social issues. He recalled one moment in which he felt estranged from his white peers during a political theory class discussion in his sophomore year.

“My parents are immigrants, most of my family are immigrants, so I definitely felt some type of way when my peers would say something, maybe not controversial, but something I didn’t agree with, such as their support on closed borders in the U.S.,” Diaz-Lopez said.

Diaz-Lopez said he feels like he’s expected to speak for the entire Latinx community at the BSOS school.

“That’s a lot of pressure sometimes because I can’t speak for everyone within our own community,” Diaz-Lopez said.

Zachary Wandalowski, a senior government and politics and economics major, said he often looks for instructors of color when registering for government and politics classes.

“With the [government] professors you could really tell that their identity played into how they taught the course,” Wandalowski said.

Being one of the few people of color in his classes was not a new experience once he arrived at UMD, he said. To Wandalowski, UMD seemed much more diverse than his high school, which he described as about 90% white. Now, at the school of BSOS, he can learn about political systems through professors of color, has classes that are more diverse and surrounds himself around cultural groups which makes him more comfortable, he said.

After various attempts to contact the dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, we were unable to receive a comment. 

As of the fall 2023 semester, Merrill has the highest population of white students compared to any other college at UMD, with a population of 65.1% of white students.

At Merrill, those identifying as Black are the largest minority group at 11.2%, the report said. This is followed by Hispanic/Latinx students at 8.5%, Asian students at 6.5%, multiracial students at 4.5% and Native Americans at 0.2%.

According to Merrill College’s Dean Rafael Lorente, the college does not explicitly control admissions, the university admissions office does.

Maximo Legaspi, a freshman journalism major, said growing up, very few of his peers were Asian. Half of his classmates were white and the other half were Black and Latinx, he said.

This continued at Merrill; during the freshmen open house, there were no guest speakers of Asian descent, he said.

Legaspi says he was able to truly feel represented by a journalist when he met UMD alumna and Washington Post Reporter Arelis Hernández.

“She had a really big impact on what I wanted to do as a journalist,” Legaspi said.  “While she was talking, I was like ‘Wow she’s from PG County and she knows what she’s doing.”

Laura Charleston, a sophomore journalism major, said she went to schools that were majority Black and Latinx until she arrived at Merrill. She added that she noticed the lack of diversity while taking an introductory journalism course.

She realized how much her perspective differed from her white classmates when the class was assigned to write an article on Wesley Lowery’s book-talk “American Whitelash: A Changing Nation and the Cost of Progress” – which observed the increasing rate of hate crimes against minority groups correlated to reformation periods for people of color.

Charleston recalled when the professor left the classroom, some of her white peers stated they couldn’t find anything relevant from the book to write about and even complained about having to write about the topic.

“It might be something different,” Charleston said. “You might not have experienced a lot of [racism] in your lifetime. But at some point, you need to just listen.”


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