Bousaina Ibrahim , Intern
For young students, the beginning of August always signals that fall semester is near. Many college students will be preparing for their return– or first experiences– to classes, dorms, and campus life. For Black students at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, this time of the year means the search for community continues.
Of the three universities within the University of Nebraska system, UNO presents increased diversity that reflect Omaha’s growing demographics. According to their 2021-2022 diversity report, 30 percent of UNO undergraduate students identify as a racial or an ethnic minority. For Anne’ Richardson, a rising senior majoring in communication studies, feeling a sense of belonging can be out of reach.
“This far at UNO, I definitely feel like the minority. I feel small compared to the other majority of white people, which comes with being at a predominately white institution”, Richardson said.
Like many other college students across the country, Richardson said the impact of COVID-19 on her educational experience has been colossal. Whether it was changing to fully online classes and relearning her new normal in studying, to missing out on the events and parties that are typical to college life, Richardson said she felt like she missed out on a lot. And as a Black woman on campus, the pandemic caused further isolation for the community. But so far, Richardson is grateful for the community she has found, especially within her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The AKA sorority is a member organization of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), a collaboration of historically Black sororities and fraternities that has been active at UNO for over 75 years.
“I am grateful for the community I found in my sorority, which is a part of the ‘Divine Nine’. Honestly, without this experience, I don’t think I would have found community As a Black person at UNO,” Richardson said.
For Latifah Palmer, a junior majoring in pre-nursing, her college experience began at the height of the pandemic. Experiencing the university from an online distance meant that she was unable to get as involved her first two years. This semester will be her first with in-person classes, and she said she’s excited about making new connections.
Before becoming a student at UNO, Latifah has been familiar with Black clubs and organizations on campus because of her older sister. Latifah said she can remember attending and helping set up for several UNO events, including some hosted by Black Excellence, the Black student union at UNO that provides support, advocacy, and resources for Black students.
“I do feel familiar with the groups on campus I can be a part of. There are clubs that are centered on African-Americans and African immigrants. There’s the African Student Association, as well as the Black Excellence club. There’s also the historically Black sororities and fraternities on campus as well,” said Palmer.
Palmer says the key to retaining Black students is being more welcoming, from the students, faculty, and administration level. Palmer said she has a positive experience with her professors and staff, as they are always willing to provide support and understanding. Dr. A.T. Miller, UNO’s Chief Diversity Officer, would connect this to the faculty-wide dedication to awareness, racial healing, and increasing faculty of color. UNO is also working to build early relationships with high schoolers and the Multicultural Center to create smooth connections and transitions at all levels of UNO.
“Personal relationships, open doors, relevant curriculum and programs, access to the full array of offerings and support, active and effective student organizations that have a real voice on campus, an administration that reaches out to listen—these are all ways to support Black students that I have experience with and am bringing to UNO,” said Miller. “As well as joining with those already here and providing support and encouragement”.
Miller said he is hopeful that UNO will continue to build on a strong history of high-achieving Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni. He said the new and ongoing investments and changes are ways to make UNO a place that supports students’ goals and facilitates their success. And ultimately, a campus that truly reflects and reaches out to all of Omaha.