California State University, Long Beach
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Challenges Of A Diverse Student Population

Published: October 1, 2015

On a campus where nearly 2,000 students from 100 foreign nations join an enrollment that is 26 percent Latino, 16 percent Asian-American, nearly five percent African-American and 27 percent Caucasian, diversity is a defining element that Educational Leadership’s Angela M. Locks, an associate professor, believes needs support.

“Students today are more racially and ethnically diverse, more socioeconomically and linguistically diverse, with various ways of understanding the world. To borrow a term from Black feminist thought, look at the notion of intersectionality where students bring multiple identities with them to a college campus,” said Locks, a member of the university since 2008. “Students are not only people of color, they are women who belong to the LGBT community and may be a first-generation college student. The challenges of access and success in higher education are not students of color. The problem is with institutions and the challenges leadership and faculty face in serving such students.”

Locks applauded the leadership of CSULB’s President Jane Conoley for setting the right tone for such a diverse campus after the Ferguson verdict.

“I think her e-mail completely altered the nature and tone of our campus climate for years to come in a positive manner,” said Locks. “Historically, it represented a watershed moment for our campus in terms of inclusiveness and civility. Her follow-up e-mail was brilliant. She took that moment to talk about the importance of civility in the campus environment. I am hopeful about what is happening on this campus as we move forward.”

A critical need for CSULB’s diverse student body is a sense of belonging.

“We need to provide our students with a sense of belonging and communicate to them that they belong at the university,” she said. “A study several years ago connected interactions across racial and ethnic differences to a sense of belonging. Too often students don’t have positive interactions with faculty, staff or their peers and end up marginalized.”

Locks feels her four years as part of CSULB’s faculty-in-residence program helped her to better understand CSULB’s students.

“I felt honored to be part of the program,” she said. “It showed me how many student stories are not captured in the higher education literature. But theory is beginning to catch up with student experiences. I saw great sacrifices so students could experience what it was to be a ‘normal’ college student who lived on campus. I met students who returned home every weekend to be a role model and make clear that college was a possibility for their siblings and other young people in their neighborhoods.”

Locks earned her Ph.D. in Diversity and Governance from the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

The key to the success of students of color in higher education seems to be time.

“With regard to student learning and outcomes, particularly retention and learning outcomes, what is important is that students have sustained engagement with diversity with their peers,” she said. “One-time workshops can be successful but most of the research indicates it is the sustained engagement with diverse others that makes a difference in terms of promoting students’ critical thinking and analytical skills as well as more popular and concrete outcomes such as GPAs and retention. One example is having a roommate who is racially or ethnically different. Experiences like these allow students to leave the university able to engage California and the broader country in ways they can demonstrate their ability to engage in a global society.”

Angela M. Locks
PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Angela M. Locks

Locks believes in the importance for students of color to form a connection to CSULB.

“Students need to get a consistent message that they belong on campus and people believe they are capable of being successful at the university,” she said. “They have earned their right to their CSULB education. I think it is critical for students to have multiple pathways to connect with the university. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach because students are unique and come to us with individual experiences, attitudes and behaviors. With such high-impact practices as undergraduate research and service-learning opportunities, students get the chance to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world. Things like this lead to students feeling like they belong. That, in turn, eases the transition to college which leads to higher GPAs and retention rates. I think you need to be cautious about coming up with a `silver bullet’ approach, where, if we do this one thing, all students will experience success. I think its creating multiple avenues for students to connect with the university that is important.”

President Conoley’s leadership leaves Locks hopeful about CSULB’s future.

“I also want to thank Provost David Dowell and Vice President for Student Affairs Carmen Taylor for the leadership they have been providing for the university. I think they have a great team,” she said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for them as leaders.

“We have the opportunity, as faculty, administrators and leaders on this campus, to take the onus of student outcomes of success off students and put it on ourselves,” she added. “The next challenge for our campus is for us to take individual and collective responsibility for what we do and don’t do well as institutional actors to better serve our students.”