Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The World is Opening Doors to Higher Education, what about Buffalo?

NPR and the Global University:

I have really enjoyed Joyce Kryszak ongoing articles about the University at Buffalo, and how international students and even offshore campuses have expanded our local university, I think for the best. However, last week you segment (or an ad for it) was closely followed by coverage of Buffalo Schools Superintendent James A. Williams’s convocation for this year’s public school session. He commented on the lack-luster high school graduation rates across the city and the down right deplorable odds for African-American boys in our city schools. Is it possible that a UB student is more likely to encounter someone from Singapore than a black person from University Heights neighborhood? While I am glad that UB has made the effort to distinguish itself as a diverse international institution; I am saddened that the impenetrable heart of intellectual darkness may be right across the street. I wonder what the University had done about attracting and retaining racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse students from the Western NY area and Buffalo specifically. Especially when these students may be the ones who will want to stay here, to attract employers, or become employers themselves. They could become human capital investment that Buffalo has longing for.

I did not grow up in Buffalo, but I am a UB Graduate, and UB’s graduate architecture program is one major reason that I decided to stay in Buffalo. The field of architecture is not known for its diversity, and has long been the purview of old white men. This is changing, and nearly half of my classmates were women. Because UB attracts so many international students, I had the benefit of a studio environment that included European, Canadian, and most notably Asian students. In many ways, this enriched our learning environment. However, as an African-American woman, I was nearly always the only representative of this group. In my first year, many students and sometime professors referred to me by the name of the only other African-American woman who was there, we shared no classes, and really do not look anything alike. When she graduated, at least people knew who I was; or should I say EVERYONE knew who I was, I wasn’t famous, I just stuck out. Why were there be more international architecture students than black, Hispanic, Native American, or even White students from Buffalo. This always seemed particularly hurtful to me just as I would leave south campus; I would drive through hurting neighborhoods that are in such dire need of design and of the designers who are intimate with and invested in them. I knew that many of the talented students I went to school with were going to leave not only Buffalo, but also the country when they graduated.

This is not just UB’s problem; they cannot enroll students that are not ready for higher education, nor is it just the problem of Buffalo Public schools. As we know, Buffalo is a poor city, and not yet healed from the scars and scrapes of its industrial history. The high school and college education of the not-so wealthy, and minority student is a looming community and national issue. It is be unfair to portray these students as any less hungry or knowledge than their Singaporean counterparts. Why do not UB’s globalization efforts start by reaching across Bailey Avenue? If culture, national origin, religion, even language are bridged, why not race, neighborhood, and socio-economic status? I cannot say I have an immediate solution to this complex problem, but I am interested in raising awareness, and doing what I can to contribute to its long-term solution. I think that UB has and will be a key to that solution. UB should continue to distinguish itself as a Global University, but it should also look towards the world away that is at its front door.
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