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Not Your Grandmother's SU ... Or Is It?

By Victoria Kidd

Now in its 160th academic year, Susquehanna has certainly seen its share of changes through the generations. Once an exclusively white, male-dominated campus composed primarily of Pennsylvania students, the university has grown into a cosmopolitan campus represented by a student body with more women than men, from dozens of states and countries.

The baby boom of post-WWII America and social justice triumphs of the mid-'60s resulted in larger and more diverse campuses across the country. By 1968, when SU's first African-American student graduated, the student body had increased 150 percent in just 10 years. But while strides were made in the overall population, it would take decades for diversity within the student body to reach critical mass.

After some decline in the early 2000s, SU more than doubled its percentage of U.S. minorities and international students between 2005 and 2015, from 6.5 percent to 15.1 percent. Since then, it has jumped another seven points to nearly 22 percent. That's a 45 percent growth rate in just two years--and given national projections on high school graduation rates through 2032, growth in the number of U.S. minorities and international students at Susquehanna is expected to continue.

As it does, we examine how the student body has changed and how, at its core, it remains the same.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER REFLECTS SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHICS

For 82, Lynn Hassinger '57 Askew gets around quite well. She still drives. She's in pretty good health, and she loves to "come down the hill" from her house to visit her alma mater.

It was here on a sunny September afternoon--smack dab in the middle of the entrance to the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center--that Askew met Randy Gibson '20. He was walking in to the campus center as she was walking out, followed by a Latina student and a white male student.

"Hi, who are you?" she asked, stopping to look up at the kind African-American student holding the door open for her. The Latina and the white student behind Askew, one of our oldest living alumni, politely acknowledged her before excusing themselves to go on about the day's classes and activities.

The foot traffic didn't rattle Askew, though. Aside from giving the students a smile and a nod, she seemed largely unconcerned with anything except getting to know Gibson in that particular moment.

Gibson, she learned, is a graphic design major from Morgantown, Md. Her husband, the late Gilbert Askew '61, was from Baltimore, she tells him, as they moved to the side of the entryway to continue their conversation.

It was one of those picture-perfect moments when the past meets the present in an image that defines history. In this case, Susquehanna's history: What's changed and what remains the same?

If judged by demographics alone, the university is a vastly different place than when Askew arrived on campus. But scratch the surface and you find more in common among the generations than you might think.

Askew has learned this from countless encounters like the one she had with Gibson. She's been engaging students like that for years.

"It keeps you in touch with what's going on with the younger generations," she says, before greeting an Asian student walking by in ripped skinny jeans and a vintage concert tee.



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