ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The protests on college campuses in the last month come as high school students are researching and applying to schools. So to them, dramatic scenes like this are more then a news story.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Shouting) It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Shouting) It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
SHAPIRO: Students at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus were at the forefront of the protests over racist incidents and the reaction of school officials. NPR's Cheryl Corley has been talking with high school students about how these demonstrations factor into their college searches.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: A few hundred students, mostly African-American, made way their way into a vast hall in Chicago's South side, visiting tables adorned with bright banners and school brochures. This was the first college fair, co-sponsored by Illinois State Sen. Mattie Hunter, for students in her district.
MATTIE HUNTER: So young people, take your time. Try to talk to everyone at every single table.
CORLEY: Maya Sanders, a National Honor Society student visiting the fair with her parents, took that advice and had lots of questions for the school representatives.
MAYA SANDERS: I'm trying to really see how well they can engage with me in order for me to attend their school.
CORLEY: Sanders says the recent protest on campuses over racism has made her a little leery, so she wants details about the racial makeup of the student population of every school she's considering.
SANDERS: And if it's predominately white, I'm like well, I don't know yet because I don't want to, you know, have to worry about things like that when I'm going off to college. So...
KEONNA HILL: I'm Keonna Hill.
RASHEED BYNES: How are you doing? Rasheed Bynes (ph) nice to meet you.
STACY PORTER: Stacy Porter (ph). How are you, Ms. Hill?
HILL: I'm fine, and you? So I've got a scenario...
CORLEY: 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.
HILL: Everywhere you go, it's racism and it's a problem. I am scared. I mean, what kid wouldn't be scared?
CORLEY: 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 it's not going to scare him away from schools he wants to attend.
JEREMY THOMPSON: Not necessarily - I mean, it's all based off how you handle yourself. We're not there to, like, prove ourselves to anyone. I mean, we're more there to, like, better ourselves. I'm looking for the best school someone can really get me where I need to be.
CORLEY: 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 higher more diverse staffs.
JOCELYN DELONEY: Our clinicals are on campus.
TRAVIS MORGAN: OK.
CORLEY: Over at the table for Missouri 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.
MORGAN: Ultimately, it's between that student and the family to make a decision about where they want to go. We educate them. We give them the information. At the same time that we talk about that, we talk about the graduation rates of that school. We talk about how successful African-Americans have been at that school.
CORLEY: 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. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
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