Seeking diversity

In 2008, blacks made up only 3.8 percent of the freshman class at the College of Charleston, and 5.7 percent overall in a student body of roughly 9,800 in a state in which about one- third of its residents are black.

The College of Charleston's first black graduate said he was terrified when he enrolled at the downtown campus in 1968.

Eddie Ganaway, who enrolled in January of that year when the school was first desegregated, graduated in 1971. When he first stepped on the campus, "I was scared to death," he said.

In his mind, he pictured all the other students as "the children of former slave owners and aristocrats."

Ganaway had been away from school for more than four years serving in the Navy.

"The picture in my mind wasn't entirely true,"

Ganaway said. Some students didn't go out of their way to welcome him, "but they were mostly Southern gentlemen who didn't display hostility."

The college enrolled only nine black students in 1968, and it still has a long way to go before enrollment comes anywhere close to mirroring the population of South Carolina, which is about one-third black.

In 2008, the most recent year for which data was available from the state's Commission on Higher Education, black students made up only 3.8 percent of the C of C freshman class, which usually is the most selective. The percentage of black undergraduates that year was 5.7 percent in a student body of roughly 9,800.

Ganaway, a former history instructor who retired from the insurance industry, was one of eight members of a panel presentation Tuesday on the history of minority access to the college.

The panel was a Black History Month event to better understand the roots of minority access, said John Bello-Ugunu, the college's chief officer of diversity.

He's also holding town hall forums for students, faculty and staff members this month to more clearly assess where the college stands today, and where it needs to go, in the area of campus diversity.

Michelle Cooper, a young black woman and a senior at the college, also was on the panel. She said that when she started at the school four years ago, she was often the only black student in her classes.

Evelyn Delaine Hart, another panelist and a 1980 graduate, said she too was often the only black student in her classes. "If that's still the way it is now, that's not good enough," she said.

Panelists Lucille Whipper, a former state representative, and Fred Daniels, who was director of admissions at the college in 1968, said one thing keeping black students out of the college is the school's demand for increasingly high SAT scores.

"When you're driven by SAT scores, you're going to drive off some of the kids from this state, especially minority kids," Daniels said.

Delaine Hart said she likes to compete against the best, but "test scores shouldn't be the only measure" of the potential for success.

Debbie Counts, the college's associate director of admissions, attended the presentation and spoke about what the college is trying to do to boost campus diversity.

Admission officials don't rely only on SAT scores for admission, she said. They look at many factors, and they are "out there genuinely trying to get the students," she said.

One of the major challenges, from her perspective, is that "students of color don't know about the College of Charleston." It's often not on their lists of colleges they might attend, she said.

Panelist Otto German, who graduated in 1973, said "the college still has an image problem. It's an institution to which many of their ancestors couldn't come."

Counts said the college also needs to hire more minority faculty members before it will be appealing to more black students.

And, she said, things are improving. The college had 933 applications from black students for the 2010-2011 school year. She couldn't yet say how many of them would be accepted.

Said Ganaway: "We need to find some way to organize an effort here for aggressive outreach" to black students. "You should be seeing the population on an equitable and equal basis," he said. "Do what you need to do to make it happen."

How schools compare

School — Freshmen (1) — Total/percent black students

(2) S.C. State — 966 — 940/97.3

Francis Marion — 681 — 33 3/48.9

Winthrop — 1,075 — 252/23.4

The Citadel — 607 — 55/9.0

USC-Columbia — 3,859 — 297/7.7

Clemson — 2,923 — 214/7.3

C of C — 1,956 — 74/3.8

(1) fall of 2008

(2) a historically black school