Retention rates drop for African-American women


Students listen to a lecture in the First Energy Auditorium in Franklin Hall Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. 

Tierra Thomas

During her freshman year, Leah Boyd kept herself active and present on Kent State’s campus. She pre-majored in one of the most consistently top-ranked fashion schools in the United States and took part in many student organizations that helped her connect with others socially.

After her first year ended, however, Boyd started to develop mixed feelings.

Now, instead of being social, Boyd keeps to herself. And after taking a few fashion classes, she eventually realized the major wasn’t right for her.

This and other personal issues make her wonder if she made the right choice attending Kent State to begin with.

“I feel stuck,” Boyd said. “I’m just going day by day with everything.”

According to the 15-day numbers given out by University College Dean Eboni Pringle, the retention rate for African-American females went from 82.9 percent in 2015 to 75.9 percent in 2016.

For years, the university focused on increasing African-American male retention, which constantly remained low; 69.3 percent of freshman African-American males came back for their sophomore year in 2012. From there, it increased over the years, and in 2016, 70.3 percent of African-American males returned.

The significant drop in female retention rates surprised Pringle the most.

“We can attribute some of that to competitive programs like fashion and nursing where we enroll quite a few female students,” Pringle said. “You have limited seats, limited opportunities. So you can’t really accept every student who’s interested. And those students who aren’t accepted look elsewhere to fulfill their goals.”

Boyd also wonders if she can get her education elsewhere now that she no longer pursues a degree in fashion.

“The fashion (major) was the huge reason why I stayed,” she said. “I’m (a) business management (major now), and I could do that anywhere, in a college that’s in a city where my creativity could be thriving more.” 

Along with the change of majors, Boyd also dealt with her own personal issues and took the summer to think about whether or not to return. 

“If you are not mentally strong or OK in who you are, you will not make it in college,” she said.

While the female retention rate now takes a high place on the university’s list of priorities, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been male students who still contemplate leaving.

De’Von Gomez, a junior fashion merchandising major, transferred to Kent State in Spring 2016. Like Boyd, he and the university share a complicated relationship.

“I’ve tried to leave multiple times,” Gomez said.

Although the university wasn’t his first choice, Gomez transferred from Ohio Dominican University after Kent State waived his application fee.

“I had no other option,” he said. “All of the other schools I wanted to go to were too expensive.”

Several factors almost made Gomez transfer again, including being an African-American male in the Fashion School.

“You get a double whammy in a way,” he said. “Sometimes it’s kind of hard because there’s not a lot of people that can relate to you.”

Pringle follows up with students who transfer or drop out of the university to understand the reasoning behind why they left. After talking with a few students over the summer, she found some left because they didn’t like Kent State.

“Students, like everyone else, have circumstances surrounding their departure that just can’t be helped,” she said.

Ashley Williams, the assistant director of the Student Multicultural Center, helps run programs like Kupita Transiciones and the Academic S.T.A.R.S. Program for newly admitted African-American, Latino American, Hispanic, Native American and multiracial students to help them adapt to the college experience.

“I think those programs really help students with being able to feel like they’re connected and feel like they belong here at Kent State University,” Williams said.

Cinnamon Small, the outreach program coordinator of pan-African studies, feels satisfied with what she’s seen done by Kent State to keep African-American students on campus. 

“Given today’s climate, Kent State does a good job at providing services for students and courses that help them understand who they are,” Small said.

Small wants to challenge students to use their resources, such as the black student-run organizations and the SMC, before deciding Kent State isn’t the right place for them. 

“If people don’t take advantage of what’s available, then they’ll kind of be left in the dark, and they would complain about not being offered what they thought they needed,” she said.

Williams thinks the student organizations help freshmen in the long run as they continue their journey through college.

“Students begin to develop a family,” Williams said. “They begin to develop these relationships, and that helps them begin to transition because they know they have the support of the (organizations).”

Boyd, who participated in multiple student organizations during her first year, such as Sister Circle, Focus on the Future and Academic S.T.A.R.S., keeps to herself for the most part now. However, she thinks those programs and organizations are good for freshmen. 

“It helped me get my feet wet with what I could be doing on campus,” she said. 

After leaving those organizations to focus on herself, Boyd notices the difference in her social life with people she made friends with her freshman year, particularly within the black community on campus. 

“The black community is small,” she said. “So when you don’t get accepted by that small community you felt that you could come and find genuine friends in, it’s like you have no one. And this is not the place where you want to have no one at.”

Unfortunately for Gomez, programs like Destination Kent State and Academic S.T.A.R.S. do not apply to him because he transferred.

“When I first got here, I didn’t fit into anything, basically,” he said.

After meeting Gomez, however, Williams introduced him to the SMC and other organizations he could join, including Black United Students, Focus on the Future and the Male Empowerment Network.

“I think students are more likely to stay if they have those genuine connections with people in places and offices on campus,” Williams said.

Gomez became more confident about himself and his cultural background after joining those groups. His activity on campus now spreads beyond those organizations, and he serves as a member of the Undergraduate Student Government.

“Since being here, I have learned valuable lessons on friendship, leadership, interpersonal skills and my culture,” Gomez said.

Although both he and Boyd still have their doubts on whether Kent State suits their needs, they both continue their education here. Boyd may study away at a historically black college for a semester to get a different kind of experience, but she doesn’t plan on transferring for now.

“I’m comfortable here because it’s kind of like the norm,” Boyd said. “I don’t want to start over with new people.”

As for Gomez, he still thinks Kent State could be a blessing in disguise.

“Kent State is very different, but it is a good school,” Gomez said. “I find positives in it at least once a week.”

Tierra Thomas is the African-American student life reporter. Contact her at [email protected]