Franklin's class of 2025 is the most racially diverse the college has seen to date, with 56 of 253 being students of color. Yet, the term ‘student of color’ can mean a lot of diٺerent things, which is something that freshmen Alia Sarris and Bailey Gibson understand.
Both were adopted by white parents.
“When I was younger, I wholeheartedly believed I was white. Nobody could tell me otherwise,” Gibson said.
Both said they feel like they are missing a part of themselves because they were adopted.
“There are multiple sides to it, and none of it is easy,” Sarris said. “I didn’t grow up learning Spanish—I just didn’t grow up with that life. I didn’t have a quinceañera, and I wanted one so bad.”
They are ready to contribute to a more progressive college, but emphasized that their racial identity shouldn’t define them.
“I’m happy to be a part of the change, I just don’t want to be another statistic,” Gibson said.
They participated in Shine, an event where freshmen move to campus early to build connections with other students of color. Many participants say that the experience made them feel very well supported by the time classes started.
During his first year on the job, Associate Director of Multicultural Recruitment Myron Duff has also relied on forming personal connections to attract students to the college. Yet, he didn’t expect admission’s intentional approach to yield results so quickly.
“When I came here, I really focused a lot of my time on building relationships with students and parents," Duff said. "I would like to think that I played a major role in helping to bring in these unprecedented numbers, compared to what we’ve had in the past.”
The retention of BIPOC students is one of Duff‘s primary concerns. Financial aid complications pose the biggest threat to enrollment, while another risk is the racial composition of Franklin’s faculty.
“My concern is the fact that we only have one African American faculty on campus and one Latino faculty on campus. If we’re going to retain students, we’ve got to get more faculty of color on campus," Duff said.
In the meantime, Duff has been successful at recruiting students of color.
Freshman Celeste Edwards is one of them. She said the campus’s small size was shocking to her when she arrived. She attended Warren Central High School, which houses around 4,000 students. She enjoyed her time in Shine but felt that Welcome Week was a bit obtrusive at times.
"Every five seconds we would turn around, and that dude with the camera—this is nothing against the dude with the camera—would be in our faces,” Edwards said. “It was just kind of annoying because sometimes I was just like, ‘It’s early. Please get this camera out of my face.’”
Edwards wants diversity at the college to grow. The best way to keep students of color on campus, she said, is to continue to allow space for community building like Shine did.
“A reason a lot of students don’t stay here is because we don’t have support,” Edwards said. “It’s hard to want to go through spaces where you don’t see a lot of yourself in the administration.”
Maegan Pollonais, director of Franklin’s center for diversity and inclusion, said that Celeste and other Shine participants are willing to engage on racial topics.
"They took in everything we offered them,” Pollonais said. “They seemed very interested in actually leaving a mark on Franklin.”
She helped bring the Indiana Latino Institute to campus as part of the Shine program, something to which students responded with enthusiasm. She and a group of students are now founding a Latinx club on campus.
“It not only is huge for representation, but it also tells our students who are members of that community that you matter,” Pollonais said.
Sarris and Gibson said they feel supported by the college’s staff overall, but Sarris said that not all professors seem cognizant of how their words impact others. One of her professors commented in class while discussing a racial topic that everyone appeared to be white in the classroom. That professor couldn’t have known from Sarris’s physical appearance that her biological father was a Mexican immigrant, but she said she felt overlooked.
“It hurts because it makes me feel like they’re discounting my parents and my family’s lives and stories and everything. It also confuses me about myself,” Sarris said.
She won’t be the only one who is confused throughout her college experience. It is uncertain what the next four years bring for this year’s freshmen because they are so different from all of those that have come before. Still, many feel that getting more students of color on campus is the first step of the process of changing the narrative of Franklin College.