Birds of a Feather

Syracuse segregation symptoms

By Elyssa Yuer

The moment students are accepted to Syracuse, it’s all over. A seemingly endless trail of packets and brochures inundate ’Cuse-bound kids, each pamphlet boasting photos of a chummy, diverse student body. But what incoming freshmen don’t know is that what was, until recently, a top 50 university is also the eighth most segregated school in the country, according to The Princeton Review. Syracuse is apparently stuck in the ’50s.

Fortunately, the university tried their damndest to fix that problem by creating more programming. SummerStart is a transitional program for incoming first-year students during the summer between graduating high school and entering “the animal house.” The kiddos become acquainted with life in the good old residence halls and, like all precious over-achievers, these SummerStarters can take summer classes for college credit.

Not everybody volunteers to attend SummerStart. Some kids have to participate. Students who take part in the Student Scholarships Program (SSSP) and New York State’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) are required to attend SummerStart. Unlike other programs, these don’t pick individuals for SSSP and HEOP because they are part of an underrepresented race or ethnicity, but because they come from low-income families. These students proved their potential by getting good grades in high school. It just so happens that students in SSSP or HEOP tend to be students of color. The majority of white kids’ families don’t have a low enough income to qualify for the programs. But SummerStart isn’t the only way to experience “diversity” on campus. The Multicultural Spring Program (MSP) is alive and kicking too. For three days and two nights, overeager high school students come to Syracuse for mini orientation events, a diversity showcase, and meet and greets with inordinate amounts of students and faculty.

I heard about MSP midway through my freshman year. Most of my floormates volunteered to be “hosts” for the program, so I hopped on the bandwagon too. I volunteered to house two girls who were interested but not set on attending SU. One girl was Chinese, and I like to think that my well-groomed persuasive skills convinced her to come here in the fall.

But apparently I am not that persuasive. My second hostee was a white girl with a multi-generational Newhouse legacy. Immediately after getting home from MSP, she ran toward New York University. Although the program says it is “multicultural,” a large majority of students in MSP were students of color. And from what I’ve heard, they face the same problem every year: it just isn’t diverse. I could count the number of white students on one hand. What made my white hostee ditch Syracuse faster than Katie Couric ditched NBC? It was not the fact that she was surrounded by students of color, but because, from what she saw, the campus was entirely segregated and lacked diversity.

The discomfort white students feel attending programs like Summerstart and MSP is a slight glimpse into the everyday life of a minority student. Everyday I’m reminded that I’m Asian, and since arriving at college I understand that I am from a privileged background. I have two supportive parents who have the means and experience to help me through college, but a lot of minorities simply don’t.

Illustration by Matthew Keeshir