On Friday March 31, more than 120 registrants from 14 of Tennessee’s colleges and universities filled the third floor of the D.P. Culp University Center, according to Don Armstrong, Student Publications Adviser and lead organizer of the event, to attend the Student Success Symposium, with its emphasis on recruiting and retaining African-American students.
This emphasis is particularly relevant at ETSU.
The East Tennessean reported last semester that the university’s graduation rate is below national average, around 42 percent, and its African-American graduation rate is especially lacking at 22 percent.
The statistics are counted for the university’s first-time freshmen who graduate within six years, meaning the current crop of freshmen should start to see changes in the implementation of advisors and other student-focused programs.
From 9:30 am to 3:30 pm, visitors participated in a multitude of activities designed to help them learn how to help students, especially African-American students, succeed in higher education.
In addition to an addess by keynote speaker Terrell Strayhorn, there were also two breakout sessions with five choices each. Topics for the breakout sessions ranged from Dorian McCoy’s “Colorblind Mentoring: White Faculty Mentoring Students of Color” to Dorothy Drinkard-Hawkshawe’s “Planned Action: Attracting Black Americans and Other Minorities to the University.”
A student-led discussion panel was also held during lunch.
Although there were 10 symposium presenters that showcased the brilliance of professors from all over the state, keynote speaker Strayhorn of The Ohio State University was the stand out.
After being introduced by Brian Noland, ETSU President; Joe Sherlin, ETSU Vice President for Student Affairs; and Rana Elgazzar, the master of ceremonies and SGA Secretary of State, Strayhorn’s address touched on several key issues African-American students face, as well as some potential solutions he’s implemented to help them succeed.
“I’m really interested in talking about black student success – here’s why… I identify as black… and I’ve been black my entire life. I was black before I knew I was black – real talk. The world knew I was black and taught me that I was black before I even understood that black was significant,” Strayhorn said with a bit of good-natured humor.
Even though he identifies as black, Strayhorn admitted that he still doesn’t fully understand his students’ struggles, as he comes from a two-parent household that was financially stable.
“What I realize now is that I don’t know anything about what it means to be low-income. I try to understand. I get close to it through my research, but I never lived that experience…,” he says.
Another one of the larger issues Strayhorn touched on was the lack of male African-American students at colleges and universities. Out of the approximately 21 million college students, only about two million are African-American, with women outnumbering men almost two-to-one.
Strayhorn also noted that at times our language is very limited, especially when it comes to confronting issues we often don’t have to deal with ourselves. For instance, he cited the definition of first-generation college student, a student who is first in their immediate family to complete college, and recalled a student asking him which family the term meant — their biological family, one of their foster families or their adopted family.
Other issues Strayhorn covered include access, college reputations among African-American communities, intersectionality and parents’ lack of knowledge about what their child will need in college.