UF honors 50 years since first black law grad as black law enrollment drops
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 4:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 4:06 p.m.
As the University of Florida celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first black graduate, it is struggling to attract black students to the college where he earned his degree.
UF Black Alumni Weekend
Events include a celebration of W. George Allen, UF's first black graduate, Friday from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in UF Law's Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom. Speakers include Allen, Northern Florida District Judge Stephan Mickle and attorney Harley Herman.
A reunion and football tailgate Saturday at the Reitz Union will feature a tribute to former UF athletes including Ron Coleman, the first black scholarship athlete; Willie Jackson Sr., one of the first black football players; and Don Gaffney, the first black quarterback.
For more information, call 392-1905 or visit the association's website
W. George Allen became UF's first black graduate when he earned his law degree in 1962. Events marking the anniversary include a celebration today that features a keynote speech by Allen and the unveiling of a plaque in his honor.
Terry Nealy, president of the UF Association of Black Alumni, said the environment for black students has changed for the better in recent decades.
But Nealy, a 2001 law graduate, said a decline in black enrollment at the law school is cause for concern.
"We have some work to do trying to figure out what those numbers mean," he said.
Black students comprise less than 5 percent of the Levin College of Law's enrollment, down from nearly 7 percent two years ago.
With the law school cutting its overall enrollment by nearly 300 students in the past five years, the college has just 46 black students this fall.
Dean Robert Jerry said in an email that the college's budget is among the challenges it faces in recruiting black students. Budget constraints prevented it from offering scholarships to students in the 2012 entering class that were competitive with other law schools, he said.
He also pointed to a wider trend in the region. The number of black law school applicants in the southeastern U.S. declined 21 percent between 2010 and 2012 compared with a 14.5 decline nationally over the same time period, Jerry said.
Jerry has appointed a task force of faculty, students and alumni to recommend ways to increase the number of black and other minority students applying and graduating.
The college's total minority numbers have actually risen in recent years, with Hispanic students fueling the increase. Two of the past three years have seen the college's highest percentage of Hispanic students in the entering class in a decade.
Jerry said in the email that events like the ones being held today bring attention to issues involving black students and allow the college to honor alumni "as we express our commitment to building upon their efforts and creating a broadly diverse and inclusive law school community."
The university's celebration of its first black law graduate comes at the same time the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the University of Texas' use of race as one of many factors in admitting students. The state of Florida in 1999 prohibited affirmative action in school admissions, creating the One Florida initiative that among other reforms guaranteed high school students who finish in the top 20 percent of their class admittance to one of the state's 11 public colleges and universities.
Allen's speech today will look back at the desegregation of Florida and the legacy of Virgil Hawkins, who was denied admission to UF law school in 1949 because of his race. He fought for admission until 1958, when he withdrew his application in exchange for a Florida Supreme Court order desegregating UF's graduate and professional schools.
The Allen celebration is part of Black Alumni Weekend. Events include a celebratory champagne brunch Saturday honoring Hawkins and a football tailgate at the Reitz Union with a tribute to former UF athletes, including Ron Coleman, the first black scholarship athlete.
Despite the enrollment decline, Nealy said alumni attending the events will see improvements in the quality of student life for black students.
"They're surprised to see how much things have changed since they were here," Nealy said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or email@example.com. Visit www.thecampussun.com for more stories on the University of Florida.
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