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Author Myrlie Evers-Williams is a trailblazer as an activist for civil rights

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Student Bureau

Changing with the times

Historically black Lincoln University turns majority white

White student enrollment has increased in recent years
White student enrollment has increased in recent years  

February 15, 2001
Web posted at: 1:41 PM EST (1841 GMT)


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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri. (CNNSB) -- Much has been said about the little university in the Missouri state capital the past few years. The school's diversity was featured on a prime time television network show. Several publications have also written articles about the school. All of a sudden, it seemed, the world was watching.

Every few weeks reporters would come to talk to students. Some of the students didn't even know why the reporters were there, but they humbled themselves to answer their questions and smile for the cameras.

Soon it became apparent that it was the school's diversity that had drawn the attention. Lincoln University is one of only four historically black colleges in the United States that has been transformed into a majority white campus. Located between St. Louis and Kansas City, the school sits upon a hill with a view of the Capitol building.

The United States has 106 historically black colleges, most all formed during a time when blacks were denied entrance to other schools. Lincoln University was founded by African-American soldiers from the 62nd and 65th "colored" Civil War infantries in 1866.

Since that time, this historically black university has adopted to the commuter lifestyles of modern times. Many students appreciate the cost savings at Lincoln University compared to mainstream colleges, and the school has an open enrollment policy that allows graduates from state-accredited high schools to be eligible for admission. As of 1998, only 16 percent of the student population was African-American.

The drastic shift in school enrollment has come with a fair share of criticism. Current Lincoln students find themselves fighting to change some of the misconceptions some people have about the university. Some of the students themselves have even said they have to make radical changes within themselves to accept the diversity on the campus.

"How are we supposed to be an HBCU and the song on the Web site says 'Ooh, look at Lincoln, Lincoln University'?" in a country western flavor, complained Stacey Simmons, a junior on campus.

Another student, Nicole Kelley, said some of her classmates were even surprised when reporters question their decision to attend an HBCU.

"Some of them didn't even know Lincoln was an HBCU," Kelley said. "That's sad."

Critics of Lincoln University say the school has lost touch with its heritage because the African-American students are now in the minority. Others argue that Lincoln continues to have the same distinctiveness as other historically black colleges and universities.

Culturally diverse classes enrich the educational experience
Culturally diverse classes enrich the educational experience  

As with other colleges founded by African-Americans, historically black fraternities and sororities maintain chapters at Lincoln University. The Nubian Education Society, dedicated to raising the consciousness of everyone on campus, also has an office at Lincoln.

Others contend that the university has gained many things because of its diverse population.

"Half, if not a third, of students at Lincoln University are non-traditional students," said Phillip Santoli, president of the Student Government Association. Lincoln University also has a large population of International students. Students come from as far away as Nigeria and Russia to study at Lincoln, he said. This provides for a good mix of company in classes.

Policies and programs at Lincoln foster positive relationships between students of different cultures. Barrier Breakers is a campus organization dedicated to creating tolerance and acceptance. Additionally, Lincoln requires students to take a cultural diversity class. Plus, students seeking a bachelor of arts degree must take four semesters of foreign languages.

The school also offers a "diversity dorm," a special housing facilty in which residents are encouraged to live with and learn from students from different countries. Each resident is required to participate in social activities that could include household chores like cleaning or helping another student with homework.

Lena Sheets, a junior on campus, likes the concept but wants to see more.

"I think it is a good idea to have diversity in the dorms, but shouldn't we have diversity in all of them, not just that one," she questioned?

Sheets also wants the university to offer more classes centered around African-American history.

Dr. Ginger Jones, English professor, says "If it were up to me, I would require all students to take a course in African-American literature."

Lincoln's students tend to be older than those in other undergraduate programs. Most of the students are not between the ages of 18 and 24, according to Phillip Santoli. "Over 50 percent of the student body is non-traditional students," he said.

Santoli said the campus serves a greater number of commuter students, working people and parents.

"These students, who range in age, race, color and creed, represent the diversity in our university and in our world quite well," said Walter Andrus, a Lincoln University junior.

In spite of the diversity and the difference in opinions on campus, the consensus among students is that Lincoln is helping to prepare them for life after college because they are learning to work, study and live with people from other cultures, whether they like it or not.



RELATED STORIES:
Enrollment of white students on rise at historically black colleges
May 18, 2000
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Students learn value of historically black colleges
Feb.12, 1996
Black schools go white
March 13, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Black History Month 2001: HBCU's
Lincoln University Of Missouri

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