“It seems like there are two worlds here at Harding,” Lee Edwards, assistant professor in the department of Bible and ministry, said. “There is south of Park Avenue and north of Park Avenue.”
Park Avenue is the street that divides the Ganus Athletic Center, the various sports fields and the Reynolds Center for Music and Communication from the main part of campus.
Up until this year, Edwards was an assistant football coach. He said he has seen Harding’s lack of racial diversity be an issue for new football players.
“I’ve watched (football recruits) come in, and they think they are a part of something that looks like them, because our football team is racially diverse,” Edwards said. “Then they cross the street and realize they’re in a different world. Sadly, I’ve seen a lot of those young men transfer. It’s not fair of me to say it’s because of that, but I can’t help but think it at least played a role.”
Tiffany Byers, the director of multicultural student services and the co-chair of the Diversity Committee, said she believes there is a correlation between Harding and Searcy’s racial diversity.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 86.8 percent of Searcy’s population is white, 7.5 percent is black, 4.6 percent is Latin American and 1.3 percent is Asian. That data was from the most recent census conducted in 2010. Data from 2015 is not yet available.
Byers said that while Searcy businesses do cater toward students, she believes Searcy’s lack of diversity can make minority students feel out of place at times.
“Through speaking with minority students from larger cities, (I’ve realized) the main question they have is, ‘Where is the public transportation?'” Byers said. “‘How do I go and get certain things that I personally need pertaining to my ethnicity?’ Whether it’s a beauty salon, a clothing store or food items, the options are fairly limited when you’re in a smaller town.”
Senior Josh Nickerson, vice president of the Black Student Association, said that Searcy’s diversity can easily affect minority students’ comfort at Harding.
“As a minority student, I might experience culture shock because of the lack of diversity here in Searcy,” Nickerson said. “Because of that culture shock, it might take minority students longer to become comfortable and used to going to school here.”
Byers also said Searcy’s racial makeup could be a possible reason for Harding not having a racially diverse faculty.
Provost Marty Spears said he used to work at a public university before becoming provost at Harding. He said state schools are also having trouble hiring minority faculty members as private schools are.
In fall 2013, only 6 percent of all full-time faculties in universities were black, 5 percent were Latin American and 10 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
Spears said one reason for these low numbers nationwide is from an underrepresentation of minorities at graduate schools. NCES reported in 2008 that 12 percent of graduate students were black, 6 percent were Latin American and 7 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander.Due to these low numbers, Spears said there is a smaller pool of diverse applicants nationwide for faculty positions. He said he believes Harding’s faculty numbers could partly be a result of competing with larger schools.
“At Harding, we’re restricted to hiring within the church affiliation,” Spears said. “If we find somebody that fits that mission, which is even smaller, they can go to bigger universities like the University of Arkansas for more money because they’re also looking to hire (minorities) as much as we are. Institutions everywhere are wanting to be more diverse, so you’re kind of competing for the same quality faculty members.”
Spears said there is a connection between a racially diverse student body and faculty.
“If we had a more diverse student population, I think we’d have an easier time attracting a diverse faculty,” Spears said. “You want an environment where everyone feels comfortable, which is why diversity is so important.”
This is the second part of a three-part series on racial diversity at Harding. Click here to read part one. The final installment of the racial diversity series will be in the Nov. 11 issue of the Bison. Part three will address the course of action the administration plans to take to increase student and faculty diversity.