By GINNY BIXBY
If you were to take a random sample of the freshmen on Move-In day and compare it to the students in photographs from the University of Mary Washington brochures and pamphlets, you may or may not be surprised to see that the number of minority students featured in our school’s marketing materials is a gross over-representation of the diversity on campus. UMW has fallen victim to the phenomenon of “minority branding.”
As a first semester freshman, receiving hundreds, maybe thousands, of college brochures and advertisements in the mail is an all too fresh memory. It became too painful to sort through all the information and analyze whether or not the literature provided a realistic depiction of the institutions.
I ended up narrowing down my choices to the type of university I could quantitatively say that I preferred, those with relatively small student bodies, and then actually visited the schools to see how they measured up to their mailings.
Perhaps I am a cynic, but it came as no surprise to me that the students I saw at these schools did not match the students displayed in the brochures. It is evident that collegiate institutions across the country are coming to terms with their homogeneity by thrusting forth an image of anything but. This is called “minority branding,” a type of marketing fueled by the desire to attract more diverse applicants.
For me, I experienced a very diverse high school in Manassas, Virginia. The 2015 census of Manassas recorded that it is a city comprised of 73.3 percent white males and females, 15.1 percent African American and 34.7 percent Hispanic or Latin American.
In my high school I felt like I was the minority, however. I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to such a broad range of ethnicities. In contrast, my last few weeks at UMW felt like culture shock as I have encountered such a high volume of white students, like myself.
I know my background is just one example of diversity, however, UMW’s marketing suggests a similarly diverse demographic of students. UMW promotes diversity but in reality it is composed of a majority of white students, 69.2 percent according to College Factual. UMW’s Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness research provides a pie chart depicting campus diversity, however, it does not provide any numbers.
It should be noted that not only is the student body limited to one predominant race, it is also heavily composed of students who identify as cisgender, heterosexual and able- bodied. In this day and age, diversity is defined by not only ethnicities but by gender, sexuality and physical variance.
Is this an issue on the part of collegiate institutions, or is it an issue on the part of society? For collegiate institutions more students equal more money. In our society, however, it is still considered to allude to the ways in which ethnicities are preyed on.
However, as much as I have been disappointed by UMW’s misrepresentative minority branding, I am impressed by the strides the University has taken in order to become a friendlier environment for minority students through institutions such as the James Farmer Multicultural Center and the existence of gender-neutral housing. While the student body may not be the embodiment of diversity, it has definitely shown that it is open to it.