42 percent of freshmen come from underrepresented backgrounds

Portland State is making leaps toward providing students with a diverse and welcoming campus. According to Interim Chief Diversity Officer Chas Lopez, more than 42 percent of incoming freshmen for the 2014–15 academic year are from underrepresented backgrounds.

“It’s exciting for PSU,” Lopez said. “Students of color have been historically underrepresented in higher education. And, for us, what those statistics mean is that we’re hopefully offering equal opportunity for everyone to attain a higher education.”

According to Lopez, PSU has made an effort to build support for a diverse student population, and this support begins even before students enroll in classes. Robin Beavers, the director of diversity recruitment, played a significant role in giving prospective students a good foundation.

“We host admissions workshops, so the students get an understanding of how to do the enrollment process,” Beavers said. “Everything from filling out the application to signing up for orientation.”

Beavers said they also provide financial aid and scholarship workshops for students and their families, so that they have a better understanding of what their options are and how the process works.

The idea is not only to recruit more students from diverse backgrounds, but to make their time at PSU more comfortable, Beavers said.

“If we’re recruiting them, we have to make sure that we have an environment that is inclusive,” Beavers said.

Beavers said many are first-generation college students, and there is a significant international student population on campus, so many freshmen are far from home or don’t have parents with college backgrounds. Because of this, more on-campus support is needed.

“PSU has a way of being really accommodating to people from around the world,” said freshman student Tressina Eddinger. A graduate of Jefferson High School in Northeast Portland, Eddinger received a diversity scholarship to PSU this year. The Diversity Scholarship Program is designed to encourage diversity through on-campus participation, academic success and community building.

Eddinger attributes much of her positive college experience to the Diversity and Multicultural Student Services center.
“It’s a bit of a shock,” she said, “to go from a small classroom, surrounded predominantly by kids of the same background, to such a large, diverse campus.”

The DMSS on campus is home to several smaller centers, like La Casa Latina and the Native American Student and Community Center, which provide forums for collaboration, culturally specific social and academic services and leadership programs, according to the DMSS webpage.

“You can always go back to that one spot, where everybody looks like you,” Eddinger said. “And you can share your backgrounds. I think that the DMSS is a great place for students with different backgrounds.”

Moving forward, there is still much more to do, but Lopez is optimistic about the direction PSU is taking.

“We’re not just getting an education in the classroom, but [from] our classmates, and ultimately what that translates to is being successful—we hope that these freshmen will stay here, feel welcome and graduate,” Lopez said.

Eddinger feels the welcome is sincere. “It’s comforting to know that you’re not alone, that there are people like you, and people completely different from you that you can learn from and relate to. My vision for PSU would be for it to continue what it’s doing now. I think they’re doing a great job.”

For more information about PSU’s campus diversity services, check out pdx.edu/dmss.