Diversity Efforts on Campus to Broaden

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With the recent departure of staff members like Coordinator of Orientation and Service Sola Ogundele, Assistant Vice President for Academic Services Lenny Howard, and Residence Life Assistant Director for Recruitment and Development Clinton Gilbert ’07, the college is striving to replace those key outlets for diverse students on campus.

All three staff members were heavily involved with diversity initiatives on campus such as the Multicultural Achievement Peer Program (MAPP), the DeSousa-Brent Scholars program, the Black Student Union (BSU), etc.

Although other staff members have agreed to step up and fill gaps among those programs, the College is striving for further initiatives to be instilled. Dean of Students Roberto Ifill will advise the BSU, Resident Director Josh Willett ’12 will supervise MAPP, Interim Director of Service Esreal Seyum ’09 has begun taking over a lot of Ogundele’s work, and Associate Professor of Spanish Jose Ballasteros has started as the main faculty adviser of the DeSousa-Brent program. Still, the College is looking to other initiatives.

One of those is the creation of a diversity officer on campus who will “work with the campus in two related areas: recruitment, support, and retention of a diverse campus community [and] ensuring a richly diverse learning and living environment for every member of the community,” according to Ifill.

Ifill admitted that the new diversity efforts on campus will be a challenge with the absences of Ogundele, Howard, and Gilbert, but he is hoping the new plans will “make great progress, especially with the interest and support of our students.”

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing has also been involved with the new diversity officer position as a part of the five-year academic Strategic Plan for the College. Although Rushing mentioned that they are still in the early stages of the plan, the ideas are not new. According to Rushing, President Urgo has been behind getting new diversity initiatives on campus since starting his role in 2011.

“I take very seriously the charge we have from the state to be an institution of higher learning that is ‘thriving on diversity,’ and I have been exploring options both on campus and in terms of state support to better meet that charge,” said Urgo.

According to Rushing, the administration is aiming for the new officer position to be filled for the fall semester. A lot of the hopes also ride on the funding the College is hoping to receive from the state this year.

“We have every intention on expanding the DeSousa-Brent program, which is oriented around lower income and first generation students as well as minority students,” said Rushing. According to Rushing, students who fall under those categories, on average, graduate in six years instead of four. One of the goals of boosting the DeSousa-Brent program, according to Rushing, is upping the percentage of the College’s four-year graduation rate, which is already the highest in Maryland for public institutions at 71%.

With the new funding, the College can then move forward in fulfilling their mentioned initiatives.

“The intersection of peoples from varied origins is what defines American Civilization, and educational institutions must embrace that history as they prepare young people to define our future,” said Urgo, “I’d like St. Mary’s College to be a national model in pursuing this aspect of our mission as a public liberal arts college.”

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