Minnesota State University President Richard Davenport kicked off the new school year at MSU with the usual fanfare. He recalled the accomplishments of the past and those to be achieved in the future.

But he also made a point of highlighting the issue of racial inequality and the wide achievement gap at the school that, like others around the country, has become more diverse.

The need to raise awareness on this issue has never been greater.

While Davenport pointed to a bright future with new buildings, a new sports dome and likely funding to rebuild Armstrong Hall, the aging main classroom building, he also pointed to MSU’s achievement gap. Some 67 percent of students of color do not graduate in six years. And 35 percent don’t return after their freshmen year.

Rates for the overall student population are much better: 47 percent don’t graduate in six years and 27 percent don’t return after freshman year.

Davenport told a sober crowd: “Now do these numbers make you realize we have a problem?”

Indeed.

But this may be more than MSU’s problem. It may be a community problem. Do people of color feel unwelcome in Mankato despite the university’s best efforts to create a fun and nurturing educational environment?

A meeting earlier this year between Free Press journalists and people of color suggests we have lots of work to do. People of color feel portrayed negatively in the press and that may reflect on the larger community including MSU.

On a positive note, Davenport challenged the faculty and staff: “We can’t ignore this. We’re too good for this.”

Students of color have to feel they’re welcome and can succeed at MSU, Davenport said. The university, business, nonprofits and the community all must be part of the solution.

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