- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Greg Thrasher was offended and upset last month when he read that Charlottesville police officers were collecting random DNA samples from black men in the search for a serial rapist.

The Detroit think tank director has two children who had been accepted to the University of Virginia. Suddenly, he wasn’t sure if he even wanted them to visit the school.

“I was troubled because I didn’t want to become an arbitrary victim, nor did I want my son to become one,” Mr. Thrasher said.

For a school that has struggled for years to recruit minority students and faculty, the news that police were stopping black males and asking for DNA samples could not have come at a worse time. Many on campus thought UVa. was finally recovering from a recent spate of racial incidents that had polarized students and led to the creation of two special commissions on diversity.

Now faculty and administrators at Virginia’s flagship school find themselves again defending the university’s record on race relations. Some wonder whether officials are doing enough to combat the school’s unwelcome reputation of being racially intolerant.

“When things like this happen, unfortunately, I’m usually the only person who speaks up,” said M. Rick Turner, dean of UVa.’s Office of African-American Affairs.

“I’ve asked my colleagues and they’ve said that folks don’t really want to be confronted with these issues. They hope and pray the next day will come and it’s forgotten. But racial issues are not forgotten so easily.”

UVa. admitted its first black student more than 50 years ago and in recent decades has made increasing black enrollment a priority. By 1993, blacks made up 12 percent of the undergraduate student body.

Since then, black enrollment has dropped while the numbers of Hispanic and Asian students have increased. Hispanic undergraduate enrollment rose from 1 percent in 1993 to 2.9 percent in 2003, while the number of Asian students increased from 9 percent to 11 percent during the same period.

Black undergraduate enrollment stood at 9 percent last fall, while black graduate enrollment was stuck at 4 percent, where it had hovered for the past 10 years. The proportion of black students in the law and medical schools had decreased from 10 percent in 1993 to about half that a decade later.

On the faculty side, full-time black professors remained at around 4 percent from 1998 to 2003.

Administrators say increased competition for minority students and a hiring freeze are partly to blame. But some students say elements of institutional racism remain at UVa., which became readily apparent following several high-profile racial incidents in the past two years.

In November 2002, two white students attended a fraternity costume party in blackface and dressed as tennis players Serena and Venus Williams, while another man wore blackface makeup and an Uncle Sam costume. The incident caused an uproar among black students and two fraternities were suspended by their national organizations.

Then someone was accused of attacking Daisy Lundy, a half-Asian, half-black candidate for student body president as she was getting into her car last February. Miss Lundy said the man used racial epithets as he slammed her head against the steering wheel. The case remains unsolved.

After the Charlottesville police testing became national news in April, some say the university’s silence was telling. Mr. Turner said the only discussion of the matter took place at a student forum he helped organize with police Chief Timothy Longo. He said no white administrators attended the meeting or spoke with him about it.

Only a sprinkling of opinion columns appeared in the student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily.

“It expresses a lack of concern for the greater community and people who are marginalized generally,” said fourth-year student Kasie Scopetti, who is white. “There is no racial dialogue. There is racial tension. … People don’t want to talk.”

Officials at the school are quick to downplay the extent of racial problems on campus and note that UVa. leads all major public institutions in the country in graduating black students. Of 36 new full-time faculty members hired by the undergraduate college this spring, 19 are women, three are black and five are Asian or Asian-American.

• Associated Press writer Lorraine M. Blackwell contributed to this report.

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