Seventy percent of black undergraduate men at TCU are recruited athletes, a Star-Telegram analysis found, a statistic that raises questions as the school works to improve its on-campus diversity and atmosphere for minority students.
The private university known for its football program has long struggled with diversity, to the point that the hashtag #beingaminorityatTCU trended in October 2016 and students shared a letter listing formal demands for improvement with the administration. A year and a half later, the administration has met some of the student demands, but minority student enrollment numbers show little progress.
“I think part of it is that a lot of minorities that are athletically inclined, they’re going to come for a school that has a team and a coach you’re interested in,” TCU chancellor Victor Boschini said. He paused. “It would make me wonder, why can’t I have 70 percent in the general population?”
Of the 490 black undergraduates, 218 are men, making up 5.9 percent of the school’s male student population. Of those black undergraduate men, 70 percent are athletes.
"When I first got there I realized most of the black people were athletes," said Brandon Parrish, who played basketball for the Horned Frogs from 2013-17. "Even if you weren't an athlete, they probably thought you were an athlete."
Of the school’s 10,498 students in fall 2017, 69.4 percent were white. The number is even slightly higher for undergraduate students: 70.5 percent, according to TCU’s online factbook.
“That’s troubling,” said Marybeth Gasman, the director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, which studies, develops and promotes policies for institutions that primarily serve nonwhite students. “They should have a whole variety of black men who have a variety of interests.”
The proportion of athletes is probably an undercount. The Star-Telegram calculated these numbers using a combination of TCU’s student factbook and athlete rosters online, as well as athletes’ social media accounts and interviews of an athlete in which he or she self-identified. If there was any doubt, the athlete was not included in the count.
“What I have found is that when they come in, athletes come in with wide gaps in education. They’re required by their high schools to jump and run. Once they’re given a chance [at the university level], many succeed,” TCU provost R. Nowell Donovan said. “But there are some gifted athletically but not academically. And sadly, some of those do not survive to get a degree.”
The university looks nothing like its city, the county or even the country. Fort Worth is 18.8 percent black and 31.1 percent Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census. Tarrant County is 4.6 percent Asian, 14.5 percent black and 26.7 percent Hispanic. And the United States is 5.7 percent Asian, 13.3 percent black and 17.8 percent Hispanic. But the makeup of TCU's student population is the same as its peer schools.
“I think it’s a hard group to crack,” Boschini said of minority students, particularly men. “And I don’t know why that is but it is, on every campus I’ve ever worked on.”
To Gasman, the fact that TCU is in Fort Worth and that only 5 percent of its students are black shows the school needs to work harder on outreach.
“I think it’s a hard population because they’re not trying. I don’t think it’s difficult. If you offer students a comparable financial aid plan, if you tell them about the institution, if you reach out to communities, if you treat people right once they get there, I don’t think it’s hard,” she said. “When you don’t have more black students, it’s a choice.”
The university does have a few specific ways of reaching out to minority students. It partners with local high schools and offers 50 students — up 10 from last year — full rides with its Community Scholars Program. The university is also adding a postdoctoral fellowship for a minority student.
But TCU’s undergraduate cost (totaling $60,704 for tuition, residence halls, dining halls and supplies) can be prohibitive to minority students. Minorities are overrepresented in socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.
Gianna Mejia, 21, transferred this semester from TCU to the University of North Texas because of TCU’s cost. One of the first things she noticed? She wasn’t the only minority in the classroom at UNT.
“Honestly, I feel like if the school wasn’t so expensive a lot more minorities would be able to afford the school,” she said.
TCU is in the fourth year of an eight- to 10-year campaign aimed at soliciting money for scholarships rather than focusing on buildings, said Donovan (although the university would not say no to anyone who offered money for naming rights). He said he wants to be able to offer more partial scholarships to students.
One change after the 2016 letter included formalizing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness Committee, which includes faculty, staff and students. The committee has sent climate surveys to students, held focus groups and instituted an award for members of the TCU community who advance diversity. It’s working on long-range strategic plans and a formal accountability system. The university has also created a chief inclusion officer position in its top administration.
Part of the task, said Karen Steele, committee co-chairwoman and chairwoman of the English department, is changing the conversation to stress that increasing diversity doesn't take from other groups.
A key to increasing student diversity and creating an inclusive environment is hiring more diverse faculty. Students need to see faculty who look like them to feel they belong, said Max Krochmal, director of the comparative race and ethnic studies program at TCU. A diverse faculty changes the conversation and the curriculum with their own perspectives and experiences.
Although faculty began working on TCU's comparative race and ethnic studies program before the October 2016 letter, the timing worked well: the university added formal support for the program, both vocally and through the budgeting process. Krochmal said students are asking for diversity requirements in the core curriculum, but TCU doesn’t have the faculty members for it.
Donovan, the provost, said he wants to hire three faculty members to cover diversity. But the academic hiring process takes time — and it can make changes seem slow to the student eye.
In the meantime, minority students still feel like they’re in a space where they don’t belong.
Jonathan Villalobos, a 21-year-old junior, was doing community service his freshman year as part of a scholarship. Back on campus, he needed a paper signed to confirm his service hours. The same woman signed his paper every time. One day, he said, he was standing in line to get it signed behind some white students. They got their papers signed quickly, and then it was Villalobos’ turn.
“I was like, ‘Can you sign my paper? I need validation,’ ” he said. “And she asked, ‘Is this court-ordered community service?’ ” He said he was wearing a TCU sweatshirt at the time.
“It’s shocking to me that that’s where most of the diversity comes from is community scholars and athletics,” he added.
Shanel Alexander, 21, was involved with drafting the list of demands back in October 2016, a process that had taken the whole summer before that. She acknowledged the administrators are doing work, but the change feels slow to her. It still feels like TCU isn’t for her.
“According to the numbers it’s 60 percent white, but it feels like 90 percent,” she said. “Everything done is catered to them.”