MLK program keeps dream alive

Is progress being made on the diversity front at the University?

.”A life threatening event has the benefit of acting as a life-clarifying event, in effect rekindling a sense of what is most important in our lives and moving us in that direction,” said Victor Collins, the current director of the College of Liberal Arts Martin Luther King Jr. student-advising program. The program supports any CLA students who embrace and foster multiculturalism through advising and community.

I recently had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Collins to get his take on some important matters pertaining to students of diverse backgrounds here at the University.

In a series of about 10 wide-ranging questions, Collins was asked about everything, from describing what led him to his current professional and academic pursuits to what he hopes the legacy of the MLK program will continue to be at the second largest university in the country, to what his role in helping to guide and shape the program includes.

I must say I found talking with Collins both refreshing and inspiring, refreshing from the standpoint of his candid responses to my questions, and inspiring through his words and deeds.

Formally, Collins was the associate dean of students at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and was working on a variety of hallmark issues, which he has developed a concentration on over a 30-year career in higher education.

Some of those issues include access to institutions of higher learning for diverse students, working with underrepresented minority populations once they are accepted to a college or university and working with these same populations as they encounter difficulties or need assistance in order to reach the ultimate goal of graduation. These are important issues for all students, but especially students of color.

The life-affirming event that enabled Collins to keep his career heading in the right direction was, of all things, a mudslide.

“I lost everything, almost my life as well. This thing happened at about 4 a.m., and if I hadn’t already been awake, I might not be sitting here talking to you now,” he said.

Collins said he knew that his life had been spared for a reason and that he had always been encouraged by colleagues and an inner-voice to do more. So when the opportunity to become the director of the MLK Advising Program became available, he jumped at the chance and has continually made a difference during the four years he has been here.

Is progress being made on the diversity front at the University? The numbers suggest that the answer is a resounding yes. According to Collins, the current first-yearstudent class has one of the highest contingents of minorities in the University’s history.

But he also says the institutional support of those students is as important as them being here. “I get great satisfaction seeing all of our young men and women graduate.”

Paul Hamilton welcomes comments at [email protected]