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Amid Application Season, Seniors Consider A New Criterion: Race Relations

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Members of the black student protest group Concerned Student 1950 raise their arms during a rally at Mizzou. Protests like this are making high schoolers look twice at where they want to study and the culture of racism on campus.

For high school students looking to choose a college, grade point averages and test scores may weigh heavy on their minds. But campus atmosphere may not be far behind given recent demonstrations on college campuses across the country.

Students at the University of Missouri's flagship campus in Columbia were the forefront of a wave of protests over racist incidents and the reaction of school officials. For some high school students, those protests make racial relations factor highly in their college search.

A few hundred students — mostly African-American — made their way into a vast hall on Chicago's southside, visiting tables adorned with bright banners and school brochures. This was the first college fair, co-sponsored by Illinois state Senator Mattie Hunter for students in her district.

Maya Sanders, a national honors society student visiting the fair with her parents, had lots of questions for the school representatives.

"I'm trying to really see how well they engage with me in order for me to attend their school," Sanders says.

Sanders says the recent protests on campuses over racism have made her a little leery. So she wants details about the racial makeup of the student population of every school she's considering.

"And if it's predominantly white, I'm like well, I don't know yet because I don't want to have to worry about things like that when I'm going off to college," Sanders says.

At another table, Keonna Hill starts talking about her plan to make sure she gets into her dream school — Tennessee State University. Hill says she's also concerned about the protests sweeping college campuses across the country.

"Everywhere you go, there's racism and its a problem. I am scared, I mean what kid wouldn't be scared," Hill says.

Tennessee State University is a historically black college and Hill says she expects the campus atmosphere there to be comfortable.

Eighteen-year-old Jeremy Thompson plans to focus on pre-med courses in college. He says racial tension at some colleges might be alarming but its not going to scare him away from schools he wants to attend.

"It's all based on how you handle yourself. We're not there to prove ourselves to anyone. We're more there to better ourselves. I'm looking for the best school someone that can get me where I need to be," Thompson says.

Attracting high school students and admitting them is key to a university's success, and the protests have sparked change at some universities that have promised, for example, to require diversity training and hire more diverse staffs.

Over at the table for Mizzou's St. Louis campus, admissions representative Jocelyn Deloney runs down information about the nursing program for Travis Morgan. Morgan advises high school students about their college choices and the challenges they may face as minorities on predominantly white campuses like Mizzou.

"Ultimately, it's between that student and the family to make a decision about where they want to go. At the same time, we talk about the graduation rates of that school. We talk about how successful African-Americans have been at that school," Deloney says.

Even so, Morgan and some high schoolers at the fair say they're proud that the college activists pushed for change instead of leaving the schools where they felt threatened or ignored.

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