Although the University has worked in the past 10 years to increase the minority student population involvement in the University, officials in several University organizations say the school does not connect with its minority students.
However, at a round-table discussion Friday sponsored by the Africana Student Cultural Center, General College Dean David Taylor said students must use resources available to them at the University.
“The way I survived was not by getting angry, but by getting smart,” Taylor said.
More than 50 people attended the discussion which was part of Black History Month and focused on the issues of the African-American community on campus. Top on the list of concerns was how African-American students could relate both to the University population at large and to other African-Americans.
Taylor said key to a student’s educational experience is acquiring critical thinking and conversational skills in order to be prepared to face the different challenges in life.
“You don’t choose your battles; they come to you. And when they come to you, you are prepared,” he said.
Panelists suggested that places like the University’s General College play an important role in helping students get a degree from the University.
In the past, General College has been labelled as the place for challenged students. Last spring, the college narrowly escaped being closed down by convincing members of the Board of Regents that it served a significant purpose for minority students at the University.
Patricia Jones Whyte, assistant director of the office of admissions, said General College is the “academic ticket” to a University career for those students who didn’t develop strong studying skills in high school.
The role of General College is “to encourage each other to keep our eyes on the prize,” W hyte said, “and the prize is to complete a bachelor’s degree in a short period of time.”
Panelists attempted to define the question: “Why can’t we connect?” They also discussed the differences within the African-American community. Sue Hancock, associate of the African American Learning Resource Center, said that African-Americans have to understand people’s cultural backgrounds. Respecting ethnicity and cultural differences is important in a multicultural society like the United States, she said.
“Unless you are able to take a look at yourself and what you truly believe, we can’t move forward,” Hancock said. The panelists also discussed the role of the Africana Student Cultural Center in building a sense of community on campus for African-American and African students. The center plans student and cultural activities.
Camara Refined Earth, president of the center, said the lack of leadership in the past three years has inhibited the center’s ability to get students involved in community activities. However, this year, Refined Earth said, the center is trying to create a more welcome atmosphere in the center and improve general participation of students.
Several students at the forum said that in the past they felt intimidated when walking in the center for the first time.
“The board has been working very hard to turn things around,” said Tehout Selameab, who organizes educational events for the center.