UWRF working to recruit, reassure inner-city high schoolers of color

Posted November 13, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Lining the school cafeteria with brochures and paraphernalia, college recruiters and representatives eagerly plied students last week with information related to their institutions at the St. Paul Central High School college fair.

Among the students who attended the fair was Ahijah Adams, a college-bound junior and African-American who confronted the representatives with questions and concerns that reflected the thoughts that were on the minds of many students at St. Paul Central, which is made-up of 63 percent students of color.

“Somebody might look at me different just because I got accepted into college, like it’s a surprise or something,” Adams said. “They might seem like they’re nice, but they might try to pick on you just because of your skin tone.”

Eager to address these concerns on behalf of UW-River Falls, Pedro Renta, the UWRF multicultural outreach coordinator, shared progress the campus has made in student body diversity.

“I know as of last year it was at 10 percent total (students of color) for the university,” Renta said. “Five years ago I think we were somewhere around 7-8 percent. Our incoming freshman classes have been coming in at anywhere between 12 percent and 15 percent over the last few years, so I think that that’s a really big improvement.”

Regardless of how many students of color are enrolled at UWRF in a given academic year, Renta believes the students consistently do a good job of making them feel welcome on campus.

“I can tell them our students do a great job of friendliness – the community feel, but many of them have to feel that for themselves,” Renta said, explaining why campus visits are so important for the high schoolers. “All students just want to be college students. They want a great experience, and it’s our job to help with that, facilitate that and guide them along in that process.”

Renta is currently on a two-week high school tour, in which he is exclusively visiting inner-city schools.

“All of the schools that I will visit in the next two weeks are predominantly students of color,” Renta said. “A lot of first generation students, students of color, low-income students.”

Despite 51 percent of the student body at Central High being eligible for free and reduced lunch, according to St. Paul Public Schools, affordability is another common concern for students of color, which is one of the reasons why Adams is highly intrigued by UWRF.

“I like how we don’t have to pay for the books, you guys can check them out, instead of buying them,” Adams said. “It’s easier, it’s less to worry about. They make it so all I have to do is check it out and check it back in. It’s like a regular library.”

Some of the students at Central High are receiving additional help in college preparation from a class that the high school offers called AVID, which is an acronym for Advancement Via Individual Determination.

“It’s just prepping for a life outside of high school,” Adams said. “There’s different (AVID classes). There’s an African-American boys one and there’s a co-ed, so I’m in the African-American boys one, and that’s the only one we have this year for 11th-graders.”