Shedding light on predominantly white institutions


Iowa State, as well as many other institutions, fall under the category of being a predominantly white institution (PWI). 

Nitanga Safi

Predominantly white institutions (PWI) are not often discussed, so not many people know what the term entails. 

In the book “Encyclopedia of African American Education,” PWI is defined as a way to “describe institutions of higher learning in which whites account for 50 percent or greater of student enrollment.” Many of these institutions are also Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCU). 

In Bedelia Nicola Richards’ article “How to Create Inclusive Environments for Black Students on Predominantly White College Campuses,” it shows that from 1996 to 2012, there has been an increase in college enrollments of minorities.

However, Richards said this fact does not contribute to inclusivity. Instead, inclusivity is about whether or not students of color feel as if they belong on campus. 

Richards went on to say that the prevalence of anti-Black incidents and the growing presence of white supremacist groups on college campuses suggest that America has not achieved true inclusivity for Black students and students of color.  

Iowa State’s Office of Institutional Research puts together a report each year that shows the percentages of students and the races they identify with. Making up 71.4 percent of the student body are students who identify as white, according to the 2019 fact sheet. 

This is enough evidence to put Iowa State under the PWI category.

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sharron Evans said Iowa State has a history of enrolling more than 50 percent of students who identify as white. 

When it comes to recruiting students, Evans said it is important for the university community to “highlight points of pride” and to show areas that might be challenging to prospective students. 

Evans said the university should also discuss with prospective students all the opportunities on campus that will help them build a community, such as Multicultural Student Affairs, student organizations, learning communities and academic groups.

She said the university’s goal is for students to feel supported and be their complete selves.

“Without the feeling of support and inclusion, students are less likely to meet their goals,” Evans said. 

She also mentioned the university is always improving policies, practices and programs. 

She said Iowa State strives to provide a space where students from different backgrounds and identities from all over the world can be courageous, try new things and learn from others. 

“A diverse campus allows for more opportunity to create a more rich culture where we can learn from each other and build a supportive and welcoming community,” Evans said. 

Kenyatta Shamburger, assistant dean students and director of Multicultural Student Affairs, said the Office of Admission plays an important role in helping to increase the number of diverse students on campus. 

Shamburger said there are different programs and services on campus that work to support multicultural students. He said there are also organizations on campus that students can get involved in to help them feel comfortable while on campus.

Through the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Shamburger said they hope to create a space that is a “home away from home,” a space where multicultural students can feel completely comfortable.

It is important for Iowa State to aid multicultural students by providing programs, services and resources essential for student success, Shamburger explained.

When asked if it was important to have students of color on campus, Shamburger said we live in a global society. He said individuals should be able to interact with other individuals who are unlike them. 

He also added that having a range of people with different experiences and who come from different backgrounds helps enhance all student experiences on campus. 

Shamburger said diversity on campus improves communication and thought processing skills, and through interactions with students of various backgrounds, it will permit students to learn how to communicate more effectively and often differently than they may have been accustomed to previously. 

For Ser Paw, a senior in child, adult and family services, the hardest part of attending a PWI is making friends. 

Paw said she identifies as Asian and that this plays a big role in her experience at Iowa State. She said the reason she chose to come to Iowa State was because it was close to home and she had a scholarship.

Paw said that while being at Iowa State, she has had a lot of “personal growth.”

She sometimes struggles with making friends and being able to communicate in English, Paw said. That is why she chooses to surround herself with students of color — because she is able to easily communicate with them and it makes her feel comfortable. 

“It is important to have a diverse population of students so that they can learn from people that come from all kinds of different backgrounds,” Paw said.

Paw said she is also in multiple programs that help connect her to other students of color.

Multicultural students can find resources at Iowa State through the Multicultural Student Affairs webpage.