The 0.7%: Black Students at George Mason College

In July 1971, when the Virginia State Advisory Committee published its report, George Mason College: For All the People?, George Mason College (GMC) was put on notice for its lack of campus representation.  The report counted a total of sixteen Black undergraduates, or just 0.7 percent of the 2456 students who enrolled for the 1970-1971 academic year. The Northern Virginia region that the college served was predominantly a white suburban area but Black people still made up 6.5 percent of all students in the region.

James M. Snyder, Professor of Education at George Mason College, clarified the low numbers of Black GMC students at a 1971 hearing called by the Virginia State Advisory Committee.  His explanation reads like an indictment: “Of the population of 897 [Black high school graduates within commuting distance of George Mason College], a total of 357 are college bound…[of these] 156 are Community College bound and 195 are four year college bound. Within the Northern Virginia Area, George Mason College draws about 5% of the high school graduates who are college bound. When this percentage is applied to black high school graduates…a figure of less than 20 emerges. On a four year basis, this would mean a black student body of less than 80.” Mason’s eighteen Black students, sixteen of whom were undergraduates and two graduates, made their voices heard by testifying at this Virginia State Advisory Committee forum.  They also gave interviews to the campus Broadside newspaper and met with GMC Chancellor Lorin Thompson to present their concerns.[1]

In February 1971, Thompson politely summoned the sixteen GMC Black undergraduates and two black graduate students to his office. He "invited them all . . . to talk about this problem," the 0.7 percent dilemma, and discovered "to my astonishment, they didn’t know each other.” Thompson's observation was quoted in For All the People? It is hardly surprising that the Chancellor's guests were not acquainted. As a commuter college lacking dormitories, a Black student union, or other gathering places to facilitate camaraderie, how would these students know each other? One of the attendees remembered the Thompson meeting as a hollow exercise producing nothing of value or significance. Thompson, however, described the meeting as "very satisfying."[2]

Who were the Black students on GMC's campus in 1971? Where did they live? Why did they enroll at the college? How can we piece together their experiences at the predecessor of George Mason University, where today 40% of the students are people of color?

By Anne Dobberteen & Anthony Guidone

Mapping Black Students' Residences

The few Black students who attended George Mason College in 1971 lived throughout the Northern Virginia region and commuted to the dormitory-less campus. Most resided in Fairfax County, with a few coming  from Arlington or Alexandria. None of these students lived near campus. Click on a dot on the map to see each student's address.

[1] James M. Snyder, Prepared Statement to the Virginia State Advisory Committee, April 13, 1971, George Mason University Office of the President records, Collection #R0019, Series 3: Lorin A. Thompson, Box 14, Folder 11; Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

[2] Virginia State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, George Mason College: For All the People? (US Commission on Civil Rights: July 1971), 6, 14. Thompson called the meeting with Black students amidst his creation of the “ad hoc committee on recruiting” in the Spring 1971 semester which, according to Thompson, was focused on making Black students aware GMC existed and not changing anything regarding Mason’s admission policies. Thompson’s original memo outlining instructions for the committee is not included in the GMU archives as it was either lost, or scrubbed, from the folder. However, a summary and inference of Thompson’s instructions are found in James Snyder to William H. McFarlane, 20 April 1971, Office of the President Records, Series 3: Thompson, Box 10, Folder 11, GMU, and other records throughout this folder in which Snyder, and others, resisted suggestions by members of the committee, such as Black GMC professor Jack Carroll, to revise GMC’s admissions process as this was not the “proper” committee to do so. Thompson would later point to this committee as evidence of his claimed proactive steps to increase Black enrollment at Mason, see Lorin Thompson to Eloise Severinson, 29 April 1971, John C. Wood papers, Collection #C0115, Box 1, Folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries; George Mason College Advisory Board Meeting Minutes, 9 March 1971, John C. Wood Papers, Box 1, Folder 3, GMU.

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